Hello, I am Outsider reporting again on the experiences of refugees in Hong Kong.
Recently there have been many news reports about criminals who lodge Unified Screening Mechanism (USM) claims with the Immigration Department, but might not have legitimate grounds for protection. This is an issue which deserves to be discussed. It raises the question: Who allows wolves in sheep’s clothing to hide among refugees?
Immigration officials recently informed journalists that several hundred USM claimants broke the law: since the beginning of the year 113 claimants were arrested for working illegally and 515 were involved in other crimes, amounting to about 6% of 10,000 outstanding claimants.
Conveniently no explanation was provide about the different backgrounds of the so-called criminals with asylum claims who were arrested. At a risk of oversimplification, I believe there are three major groups: 1) destitute USM claimants who perform legal work without permission; 2) impoverished migrants and troubled traders who cannot renew/obtain visas; c) gangsters abusing asylum to avoid removal and engage in criminal activity.
For the first group, government press releases and news reports are biased and unbalanced as they failed to make relevant distinctions. It is suggested that many USM claimants are criminals and troublemakers, yet the unfair reporting lacks context. For instance, we refugees rent subdivided rooms costing $2500-3500 (the cheapest are windowless 2x4m cubicle with shared facilities), but receive just $1500 in rent assistance since February 2014.
For subsistence reasons, including keeping a roof over our heads, many refugees are obliged to work. Any refugee stuck in Hong Kong more than six months, has probably worked here and there. Of course few dare to admit it. We simply have no choice. The government is mocking readers by calling us ‘criminals’, which brings to mind dishonest individuals breaking the law for easy money.
The reality is refugees do hard work in construction and recycling for 10-12 hours a day in very dangerous conditions for a rip-off $200-300 without insurance or medical cover. That is neither desired nor easy money. We must work to pay for ours and our family’s daily needs, in particular for our children. Don’t let the government fool you, it is the failed asylum policy that forces refugees to work without permission.
For the second group, there are several nationalities who enter Hong Kong with visitor or work visas which eventually expire. Previously they would leave and return with another visa which was problematic, expensive and time consuming. After discovering that USM allows them to remain for years with some assistance, they stop leaving and returning. They are not to blame. They probably suffer unbearable poverty without social services in their country and, after discovering a benefit, naturally seize the opportunity.
For the third group, there are hardened gangsters who resist deportation by lodging USM claims to avoid removal/detention and persist in their criminal ways. A few characters frankly explained to me that this was the only exploit to remain in Hong Kong. These abusers are thumbing their noses at a system that allows them to stay unchallenged for years. Their pockets lined with the real easy money, they entice dispossessed refugees to join their gangs.
Entering Hong Kong just to be an asylum seeker is not attractive. In fact, asylum seekers face years of intolerable hardship. Instead abusers and criminals are attracted by a failed asylum system that remains open to and indeed welcomes exploitation. These individuals find an open and unguarded environment in which they can achieve goals not related to asylum.
It appears that the government is deceptively singling out a minority 6% of arrested refugees to criminalize and degrade the law-abiding majority. A careful review of recent news reports suggest that the Government is blaming everyone – refugees, smugglers, lawyers and interpreters – without considering its responsibility towards a policy that fails refugees. The USM appears not to benefit society (tax-burden and security risk), while it allows the government to maintain an established policy of not granting asylum.
Dear readers, if the USM processed asylum claims credibly and fairly within 6 months rather than the claimed average of 2-3 years (more like 5-10), would it be approved by refugees? Would it benefit society? Would it limit the cost and social risk? Would it continue to harbour wolves in sheep’s clothing?