CNN shines the light on homeless refugees

Post Date: Sep 4th, 2014 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

A special CNN feature about individuals who dedicated their lives to charitable organizations and philanthropy around the world is schedule to run in coming weeks, having as focus the Refugee Union.

The Refugee Union has surged in recent months as a core player in the promotion of refugee wellbeing, ensuring that the plight of refugees is not just considered a serious issue, but is causally related to Hong Kong Government’s scandalous treatment of its vulnerable members.

As such the union has attracted several media inquiries, and its members have spared no effort to explain that by abdicating its responsibility towards refugees who sought its protection, Hong Kong is retreating from legal, moral obligations and welfare duty towards individuals it banned from working.

The union brought to our attention the plight of a member who had been sleeping on the streets. Now we are pleased to report that the refugee featured in this email was urgently accommodated into a guesthouse. Although the Social Welfare Department appears unable to consistently guarantee that homeless refugees are taken off the streets, if vigorously encouraged, social workers at the SWD appear to be in fact capable of settling refugees in less than 24 hours.

To borrow from the colourful vocabulary of Professor Larry Diamond to the South China Morning Post, we cannot then but query whether the neglect of refugee welfare is tantamount to lifting a giant middle finger in the face of legal and moral obligations. Hungry and homeless refugees who waited months after pleading for emergency assistance would find it hard to disagree.

In the words of a claimants, “The welfare [Social Welfare Department] told me to wait two or three months. I told them I have no money, no food and I cannot work…. The officer said to wait for a call from the ISS. I live outside since March…. I understand that Hong Kong doesn’t want refugees to come here so they punish us.”

Refugees seem to understand well that that the way they are treated is not just unfair, but in their view this unbearable gap in the commencement of assistance is created with the twofold aim of encouraging voluntary departures and forcing them to find their own means of survival However, working illegally ensures their imprisonment and loss of credibility for having breached their conditions of stay as protection claimants.

It must throughout be born in mind that the authorities are mistaken when claiming that assistance-in-kind is provided on humanitarian grounds – such as airborne food drops over overseas camps – thereby appearing to reject any legal basis for providing welfare to asylum seekers. In fact Hong Kong Government is at fault when it fails to meet the legal requirements of the High Court “Usman Butt” case (HCMA 70/2010).

“A genuine torture or refugee claimants deserves sympathy and should not be left in a destitute state during the determination of his status. However, his basic needs such as accommodation, food, clothing and medical care are provided by the Government” – Justice Cheung.



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