The rebels incinerated the home of a father of five, killed three family members, and brutally tortured and left him for dead. When news spread that he was still alive, arrest warrants circulated and, a dead man walking, the father fled alone to China with the assistance of a consular friend. His wife and children hid in the bush where his eldest son died. Almost two years after seeking asylum in Hong Kong, Immigration Department accepted his claim as substantiated.
Another victim of persecution, a parent of two children, sought the protection of Hong Kong Government in mid-2014 and was recognized a refugee less than a year later with the support of exhaustive documentary proof. Between 3 March 2014, when the Unified Screening Mechanism was launched and 12 February 2015, there were 5 substantiated cases out of 826 claims, maintaining Hong Kong’s effective zero percent acceptance rate (0.61%).
Setting aside vexing doubts about the other 821 claimants denied protection, Vision First is deeply concerned about the harsh and inhospitable treatment of successful claimants. They are in one breath notified a potentially life-changing decision and also informally told they are not welcomed to integrate and reconstruct a new life in Hong Kong.
Despite the promise of not deporting them into harm’s way, claimants are made acutely aware that the prohibition from working stays while they remain confined to the same inadequate welfare provisions they experienced as asylum seekers. Protection (from refoulement) does not come with the right to make a living in Hong Kong.
The Notices of Decisions clearly express the authorities’ position on reluctantly granting temporary asylum until alternative solutions are identified to rid the city of the annoyance of refugees. Claimants are informed that “in the circumstances, you will not be returned to [your country] for the time being”.
Then cases are “passed to the UNHCR for consideration should (you) be recognized as refugees under its mandate and … resettled to a third country as appropriate”. It seems that asylum policies in Hong Kong haven’t evolved from reliance on the United Nations to conveniently sweep away local problems with minimal expense and hassle.
The Notice of Decision warns that, “the making of removal order against you would not be precluded”, i.e. stopped, as “the Immigration Department may consider whether there is any special country other than (your homeland) to which you may return. If any such specific country is identified, you may be removed there.”
Further, the Notices of Decision issued by the Immigration Department states, “if you wish to leave Hong Kong at your own initiative, you may do so notwithstanding your substantiated non-refoulement claims. Please however be reminded that your non-refoulement claims will be treated as withdrawn and will not be re-opened if you leave Hong Kong.”
Finally, another paragraph in the disheartening notices warns, “For the avoidance of doubt, please be also reminded that a person will not be treated as ordinarily resident in Hong Kong … during any period in which he or she remains in Hong Kong only by virtue of a non-refoulement claim, including the period when his or hers non-refoulement claim is substantiated.”
The analysis of such protection documents reveals five warnings from Immigration: 1) we won’t send you back for now; 2) you are not welcome so get the UNHCR to resettle you elsewhere; 3) you are under a removal order and could be deported to another country; 4) you can’t work and won’t receive adequate welfare, so you can volunteer to leave; 5) if you are stuck here for years be aware that you are not treated as ordinarily resident and won’t be allowed citizenship.
As if the above were not depressing enough, the inauspicious Notices conclude with a final warning, “Please also note that your substantiated non-refoulement claim may be reviewed should there be any changes of circumstances and other reasons for considering revocation.”
Hong Kong Immigration’s notices granting international protection to distraught refugees conclude with the word: REVOCATION. It might reflect the spirit in which the Immigration Department reluctantly grants protection following a series of court judgments warning that, “the courts will on judicial review subject the [Immigration] determination to rigorous examination and anxious scrutiny to ensure that the required high standards of fairness have been met.”