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  • Writer's pictureAnita Qian

Candle Art with The Refugee Union

PS. If anyone would like to purchase any of the homemade candles seen in the pictures below, contact our store directly at

On the afternoon of May 19th, Cristal HK hosted its first candle-making session at the Refugee Union. It was an afternoon of laughter and banter for all, as well as an outlet to unwind, relax, and let the refugees’ creativity flow. But it was more than just a fun activity, it was also a way to support the work of the refugee union financially. Refugees do not have the constitutional right to work in Hong Kong and are forced to rely on government subsidies. The city's refugees receive HK$3,000 a month, and half must be used for rent. This means refugees have 50 dollars to spend on all other expenses every day. In other words, refugees need as much financial assistance and support as possible to ensure they can live comfortably. We hope to sell the candles they created through Cristal.HK to raise money for them as a way for them to “make their own money.”

Using sand wax and various colors and scents, refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom were mothers, were encouraged to create their own meaningful pieces of artwork, and they did just that. Continue reading below to learn more about the specific candles and their creators!

Ludy: “Our life as refugees is up and down, sometimes in a happy mood, sometimes in a bad mood, sometimes worried. As refugees, we are like birds flying anywhere to get support, and there are ups and downs, and that’s why the colors are rainbow, which is a different style of life. We don’t want to be separate from local people, we want to be equal with the other people.”

Refugees face severe alienation in their new host countries. Economically, they are given no opportunity to work, providing little to no financial stability, making their ups and downs more extreme. Socially, they are marginalized and stripped away of the opportunity to form connections with locals. Politically, obtaining refugee status in Hong Kong is difficult–asylum seekers can wait 10 to 20 years to be granted this status. After the lengthy and complicated process of applying for refugee status, if their request is accepted, the person will be granted non-refoulement protection. If not, the person may be deported back to their home country or to a third country where they continue to face the persecution that forced them to leave originally.

Even after receiving approval, the life of a refugee doesn’t become substantially easier. Many jobs require Hong Kong identification, an employment visa, or a work permit issued by the Hong Kong government. These procedures are lengthy, therefore refugees are rarely successful in obtaining these documents. Discriminatory policies, language barriers, and lack of experience also make it extremely difficult for refugees to find jobs, creating a significant barrier between them and local residents.

Shirley: “I chose to use pink and blue and white colors. The pink symbolizes that we are full of dreams in life, but unfortunately, we can’t do it here in Hong Kong because we're asylum seekers and we're not allowed to work. This symbolizes dreaming of a good future. The white color symbolizes the pure heart.”

Mira: “I like the greens because, to me, green represents peace. Here at the refugee union, there is a lot of tension since there’s no way for us to make income, no work, and no furniture, so we need to have peace of mind. That’s why I chose green.”

Shirley and Mira’s candles represent the limitations they have to their dreams and mental health due to the restricting policies placed on asylum seekers and the tough journey to financial stability. Although they have seemed to escape their old, dangerous homes, they still face many mental challenges; trauma, uncertainty, and insecurity (food, shelter, healthcare, legal status, future, access to basic needs), discrimination, and social exclusion remain prevalent problems in their daily life, resulting in anxiety, depression, and isolation. In fact, in a study done on the mental health of African asylum seekers in Hong Kong, results show that the prevalence of clinical depressive symptoms was as high as 36.1%, much higher than the general population average of 10.7%.

As asylum seekers, they are always facing the risk of being deported, but nevertheless, Shirley and Mira hold onto hopes of peace, dreams, and a pure heart to keep them going despite these tough situations. They long for peace and stability, and dream for a better future, and their candles demonstrate that.

Lordema Oliver: “The pink should be red, and red, grey, and white symbolizes the Refugee Union. When I was really down, red was a color meaningful to me... I was pregnant, I was an asylum seeker, and I didn’t know where to go. Black represents the struggle of nothing, and the white symbolizes the peacefulness and the right mind of refugee union where we sustain our children as one community.”

Through Lordema’s message, we can see how the Refugee Union has supported its members. Because of their lack of work, refugees and asylum seekers can only rely on NGOs for financial support, as government subsidies don’t cover enough for expenses for necessities. They rely on extra food from supermarkets and restaurants, donated clothes, and other materials to cover their needs. Being dependent on these uncertain sources is stressful for all, but Refugee Union works to alleviate this stress. They have given refugees and asylum seekers in Hong Kong a home and many essential services and goods to survive.

Jesy: “Purple stands for ambition and power, power for our strength and having peace of mind. The yellow is the happiness of our refugee community and association and healing, but our situation is gray. The colors together show the power of our community. Even when we’re struggling and there’s happiness for our community.”

Jesy demonstrates the unity and power of refugees and asylum seekers. The community that the Refugee Union fosters has individuals with colorful, lively spirits, even if all of their situations on the outside are tough and dark with low financial and emotional stability. But through it all, with the help of NGOs such as the Refugee Union and Cristal.HK, they will continue to fight for their voices to be heard.

Ruby: “Today is my birthday! I added five colors, I make it because I am happy because today is 42 years and I’ve had seven babies, and I've been blessed and happy because God gave me so many babies. Enjoy, be happy, and chill only in life!”

Although their situations are tough, Ruby’s message exemplifies the positive mindset that refugees have. Despite facing challenges many of us will never have to endure, refugees still approach life in a positive manner, where they prioritize happiness and enjoy life! To all the readers: follow Ruby’s instructions. Take a step back and think about something you appreciate in your own life, and remember you are blessed.

After giving them time to create these candles, we then initiated a group bonding activity. We all gathered around the table and sang happy birthday to each other. This was an enjoyable activity for all, and everyone was passionately singing. It was also a way to offer recognition to each and every person in the room, and to cheer their spirits in what may have been a challenging time.

Happy birthday Ruby :)

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