Why some NGOs have come under fire amid the HK crisis

November 19, 2019 12:23
An injured demonstrator receives medical assistance during clashes with police outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Some NGOs have been accused of not getting involved enough in aid and relief operations amid the HK protests crisis. Photo: Reuters

When you donate, you don't usually ask for anything in return. Still, there would be a hope that when things get difficult for yourself, the other side would stand by you and offer all possible help.

If no assistance is forthcoming, one may feel let down and being used, wondering if all your munificence toward the other party was worth it.

Well, this appears to be the mood among Hongkongers right now in relation to some leading international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), going by the chatter on social media.

Accusing the NGOs of being indifferent to Hong Kong's social movement, netizens have been venting anger at the organizations and even calling for a boycott. 

With the city engulfed in protests crisis since June, the NGOs, critics say, have been sitting on their hands and offered little or no help to affected citizens. 

One angry donor fumed: "I give you money when you need. But you don’t give me help when I need it."

The feelings of frustration and being let down seem to be quite widespread, with netizens pointing out that NGOs had reaped substantial rewards here over the years. 

Indeed, Hong Kong people had been very generous to international charity organizations, making significant donations despite the high living costs in the city. Figures bear this out.

Take World Vision for example. The donations it received last year amounted to HK$920 million, up nearly 2 percent.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was the second largest beneficiary, reaping donations totaling HK$518 million, an increase of 3.3 percent over the previous year.

Rounding up the top donor list was the Hong Kong unit of Oxfam (HK$250 million), Orbis (HK$210 million), Unicef (HK$170 million), Save the children (HK$160 million) and Plan International Hong Kong (HK$80 million).

Amid the current criticism, many netizens especially focused on MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders, as the medical organization was not as visible as peers Red Cross or St John Ambulance in offering help to the hundreds who got hurt in Hong Kong's ongoing anti-government protests.

Sam Taylor, Executive Director, MSF Hong Kong, said he was deeply concerned about the escalating violence in Hong Kong in the past weeks but added that it is vital that medical neutrality is preserved and duty of care of medics are respected.

"We understand that you may feel disappointed towards us. It’s not an easy decision for us, too. We are also aware, based on series of internal discussions and debates, that we may be perceived indifferent as a result.

"However, as an international medical humanitarian organization we need to be consistent on demonstrating our actions based on independent assessment of needs, no matter how unsatisfactory the result is.”

MSF will "take no sides" and will be impartial in providing medical aid, he said in a Facebook post, responding to accusations of lack of response from his organization to the Hong Kong crisis.

We can only wait and watch if the explanation and the assurance will help quell the discontent over the international medical humanitarian group.

What is clear, however, in all this flare-up of emotions is that Hong Kong people certainly expect a lot more from the well-funded NGOs.

And the organizations would do well to bear in mind that playing safe won't win too many friends, even in a politically sensitive situation.

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EJ Insight writer