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Opposing forces disadvantage seeking asylum in Hong Kong

Aug 22nd, 2014 | Advocacy | Comment

Newly arrived refugees are frequently arrested at work places where they attempt to earn survival money to pay for food and lodging because they do not receive government assistance. Exploitation in the informal economy compels these individuals into close to slavery conditions, often at the hands of unscrupulous co-national residents, to earn 200$ for heavy labour (loading, construction, recycling) and 100$ for light labour (washing, cooking, cleaning) from dawn till dusk.

Desperate newcomers accept such paltry payments that are considered sufficient to pay for food and lodging for a day. Clearly they are not economic migrants planning to remit savings overseas. They find accommodation with co-national refugees with whom they share food and rent. Bed spaces are typically rented for 1000$ a month and it isn’t unusual for two or three people to share a bed.

New arrivals gravitate towards the Star Ferry in Tsim Sha Tsui where they sleep rough and make the acquaintance of refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Africa – more refugees appear to be homeless than in previous years. Refugees help refugees, while residents look down on asylum seekers, particularly those from the same country, and don’t like to be seen associating with ‘paper people’.

Through networking at the bottom of the social ladder newcomers learn to apply for welfare (a process that takes 2 to 3 months) and are directed to sitting-out areas near the ISS-HK offices and food collection shops, where they connect with middlemen offering work as well as room and board. The informal economy redirects labour quicker and more efficiently than the authorities process indigent refugees who might have spent as much as 40,000 HKD and incurred debts to reach safety.

“Only bring yourself and leave your bags ashore” refugees are told when boarding illegal speedboats that ply the waters between Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Luggage that had been carried a long distance is abandoned on the Chinese coast. With expressions such as “God will help me” passengers depart with nothing more than the clothes they are wearing and wallets emptied along a journey of exploitation. Once in Hong Kong, newcomers must work for food and lodging as well as to buy clothes and shoes.

The late filing of asylum claims by new arrivals is cited by authorities as evidence of deviancy and proof that ‘bogus’ claimants arrived with intentions other than international protection. While this might sometimes be true, foreigners project on local police experiences of brutality that related to victims being beaten, robbed and framed with fake charges by policemen in their countries of origin.

To delay filing is also a survival strategy rooted in the inadequacy of welfare for refugees. It is well-known that the assistance package provided by SWD fails to meet basic needs and that refugees must consequently earn a living somehow. New arrivals learn quickly that if they are arrested working as overstayers they will be sentenced to 3 months jail, but as registered refugees to 15 months. No right-minded person would accept a 15 months prison sentence where 3 months are possible.

In the words of a refugee, “If you have Immigration paper then you get no concession, you must go to jail for 15 months. But if you don’t have paper then you get 3 months sentence and after pleading guilty and cutting one third, you serve just 2 months. Also sometimes police make arrest of overstayers with little evidence and send them directly to CIC. But if you are refugee you must be go to court and then jail” It should then come as no surprise that savvy refugees work this reality to their advantage.

Further, it is reported that after the expiration of tourist visas, Immigration delays registering new protection claimants for several weeks with excuses ranging from the unavailability of interpreters to a backlog of cases. It could be speculated that there is a malicious intention to deliberately delay the process with the aim of postponing the engagement of government services, including welfare, as refugees cannot approach the Social Welfare Department without Immigration papers.

Without being conspiratorial, there is evidence suggesting there are opposing forces at play that disadvantage first attempts to seek asylum in Hong Kong. Delays in acknowledging claims, processing newcomers and rendering welfare services exacerbate the vulnerability of asylum seekers who then break the law by working only to be arrested with a view to quashing their claims and deporting them.

Are these the high standards of fairness that Hong Kong Government should ensure?

Delayed acceptance of asylum claims, registration of newcomers and processing of welfare services are leaving refugees desperate, hungry and homeless in the street. When will Hong Kong Government address this lacuna?

Refugees forced to wait 2 to 3 months for welfare

Aug 21st, 2014 | Advocacy | Comment

Seeking asylum in Hong Kong is an unpleasant experience particularly for new arrivals who receive no official guidance and no government welfare for several months. There is no intake process to evaluate vulnerability and assess the need for emergency assistance. Instead the assumption is made that new refugees will independently secure food, shelter, clothing, transport fares and other basic needs.

It is unclear which welfare principles the authorities adopt to abandoned stranded foreigners to their own devices after warning they will be jailed for 15 months if arrested working. Hong Kong government unreasonably expects that new refugees have the resources and capacity to be self-sufficient for up to 3 months when actually entitled to welfare from the moment they are released on recognizance.

Vision First has frequently reported that the current intake arrangements by SWD and ISS-HK are wholly inadequate and cause vulnerable refugees great distress: “CIC was heaven, I shouted at ISS” (16 Aug 2014); “Failed intake system alienates new arrivals” (12 Jun 2014); “Hong Kong needs a reception strategy for refugees” (16 Jan 2014); “Hong Kong needs welfare services for new arrivals” (13 Dec 2013). Although dozens of refugees have been settled in guesthouses, there seem to be no guidelines to prevent new refugee homelessness.

“My eyes and neck are hurting after sleeping in the park for days,” Mohammed said at the Refugee Union protest camp. “Yesterday I went to the hospital because my stomach was paining too much after eating bad food. I lost much weight since I arrived in Hong Kong as I don’t have enough food to eat. I don’t know what to do anymore because the UNHCR said they have no more power and it is up to the Hong Kong government to provide assistance.”

In August 2013 Mohammed fled the Central African Republic after surviving the genocide of his minority group. Many of his friends and family were not so lucky. He sought asylum in Cameroon where his life was still in danger, though he explains, “The living conditions there were better than in Hong Kong. I had a place to stay and food to eat. I can say that the UNHCR in Cameroon is much better than UNHCR in Hong Kong.”

Mohammed shares the misconception that the UNHCR is responsible for the safety and wellbeing of refugees worldwide, including Hong Kong. He cannot understand why it took Immigration two months to issue him papers and why he had to travel five times to Kowloon Bay to be told to return the following week when he was destitute. Only after begging to be arrested so he could eat and sleep in prison, was he provided with a recognizance form.

Mohammed took the document to the SWD in Yau Ma Tei thinking that his ordeal was over and he would receive welfare at last. Instead he reports being told by an SWD officer, “It is not possible to get service now. You must wait for ISS to call you. There are many asylum seekers to process and you have to wait two or three months before you can get assistance.” He notes that no inquiries were made about his health and living conditions.

Mohammed was angry and couldn’t imagine how he would endure three more months in the street. Irritated he asked the SWD officer, “This is not possible. For two or three months where am I going to stay? What am I going to eat?” The officer seemed unconcerned and indifferent to his suffering. The officer repeated that ISS was too busy and ISS would call him in two to three months. The following weeks, on several occasions, Mohammed returned to SWD begging for help and was told that it was not the SWD’s duty to provide these services and that he had to wait for ISS-HK to assist him. He was never offered any emergency food.

Homelessness is rough and distressing for refugees who cannot access SWD shelters that are reserved for residents. Mohammed learnt from refugees the few options he had: if the weather is good, there is Kowloon Park and the Cultural Center by the Star Ferry; if it is raining, there are McDonald stores and doorways around the Chung King Mansions area. The last ten days of Ramadan were the most comfortable as the Kowloon mosque remained open at night and the faithful were welcomed to spend the night.

When will Hong Kong government address the suffering newly arrived refugees endure?

Denied welfare assistance for several months, newly arrived refugees are forced to endure distressing conditions and often sleep outside in parks and other public spaces

Immigration attempts to fast-track screening in CIC detention

Aug 18th, 2014 | Advocacy | Comment

On 15 August 2014, Vision First secured the release of a female Nepali national (“Nepali lady”) who sought refuge in Hong Kong in February 2014 and was detained at Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre (“CIC”). Despite holding a tourist visa to enter the city legally, she was refused entry, and instead was arrested and immediately transferred to CIC detention where she was arbitrarily detained for almost six months.

The Nepali lady had never previously visited Hong Kong and therefore the bases of her non-refoulement claims were unknown to Immigration when she was placed under administrative detention. It appears that Immigration ignored the Court of Final Appeal Judgment of Ghulam Rbani v Secretary for Justice (FACV 15 of 2013). This judgment holds Immigration duty bound to decide with reasonable diligence and expedition whether a decision on a non-refoulement claim can be reached within a reasonable time and, if not, to release claimants on recognizance.

The Notices on Detention handed to CIC detainees state: “Detention must be justified with sufficient reasons and for a period which is reasonable in all circumstances. Reasonable alternatives will be considered before detention is authorized. No one shall be subject to arbitrary detention. The power to detain must only be used for specific purposes for which it is authorized and its exercise must be justified on proper grounds.”

The Nepali lady’s monthly “Notices of Detention” stated the grounds for her detention:

  1. Your torture claim may be decided within a reasonable time in the foreseeable future;
  2. You may abscond;
  3. There are no justifying circumstances in favour of your release.

The notices inform that the decision was reached on the basis of the following factors:

  1. On preliminary vetting of available information, it appears that your claim may be one which can be decided within a reasonable time in the foreseeable future;
  2. You do not have fixed abode or close connections (e.g. family or friends) in Hong Kong to make it likely that you will be easily located if released.

Did Immigration have reasonable grounds to detain this refugee for almost half a year?

After one single screening interview, on 6 June 2014 the Immigration Department issued a Notice of Decision stating that the Maoist war was over; the violence her family suffered at the hands of members of the Maoists was “purely a criminal act”; her view that “the Nepali police will not take action against the Maoists is assessed to be not reliable”, and “it is not unreasonable for you to relocate to areas in your country to lower or negate the perceived risk upon your return to Nepal”. The Nepali lady justifiably did not accept this decision and on 20 June filed an appeal with the Torture Claims Appeal Board.

Did Immigration attempt to fast-track this claim inside detention and away from the public eye?

On 7 August 2014 documents relating to this case reached Vision First and one week later the Nepali lady was released from detention. Vision First is gravely concerned that for almost six months Immigration denied this helpless and highly vulnerable protection claimant her liberty and refused her requests to be released. Further, it is regrettable that the Duty Lawyer Service lawyer (name withheld), who advised the Nepali lady on her non-refoulement claim, did not apply by way of a writ of habeas corpus to secure her freedom.

The Immigration Department aims to meet the high standards of fairness required by the Unified Screening Mechanism, but ultimately its credibility stands or falls on implementation, not promise. When a highly vulnerable and uninformed newcomer such as the Nepali lady is summarily incarcerated and denied some of her constitutional rights, a dark shadow of distrust is cast upon the entire asylum process.

 

“CIC was heaven, I shouted to ISS”

Aug 16th, 2014 | Advocacy | Comment

Newly arrived refugees discover that Hong Kong is inhospitable and indifferent to suffering when released from Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre (“CIC”). Upon gaining their freedom, refugees might be thrilled to leave prison behind and might not yet appreciate the benefits they enjoyed, namely, three meals a day, clean bed and clothes, companionship and air-conditioning.

On 19 July 2014, Adnan was released from CIC onto the streets of Hong Kong with an Immigration recognizance form and a stark warning that he would be jailed for 15 months if arrested working. The prohibition was impressed upon him repeatedly and Adnan was surprised to sign a document confirming his undertaking as he hadn’t fled East Africa with dreams of lucrative employment.

Adnan spent 108 days in detention, for which incidentally he will claim over 70,000$ compensation, and had learned about the host city and what to expect since there wouldn’t be a welcoming party for him outside the prison gates. He didn’t yet realize how much his well-being in a developed city would depend on resilience and survival skills gained in a third-world country.

In CIC Adnan was visited by staff of ISS-HK who eventually acted as guarantor after learning that he didn’t know anyone in Hong Kong. Adnan appreciated the unexpected assistance and was told that ISS-HK would meet his basic needs as he was banned from working. On 22 July he visited ISS-HK at the Prince Edward branch and his hopes were dashed when he was told, “You have to wait two to three months and after we will call you as there are many people before you.”

Adnan had been homeless for three days and was hungry. In shock he replied, “What are you saying? How can I live because the Government doesn’t allow me to work and I signed that I will go to jail for 15 months if I work? If you cannot take my responsibility, why you take my guarantee?” He complained, “This is not what you promised me. How can ISS guarantee my release and not give me assistance? Because I am human I have to eat. How can I live?”

Either by design or inefficiency, the Social Welfare Department together with their contractor ISS-HK appear unwilling to remedy the lengthy delay refugees endure before welfare is first provided. Considering the government’s significant resources, it isn’t unlikely that this highly vulnerable group is made destitute by design to maximize self-reliance (i.e. begging) before an inadequate welfare safety net catches their fall.

On 30 July at the Skyline Tower Immigration offices Adnan met his duty lawyer who then asked him to collect transport money from ISS-HK. A few hours later he was back at ISS-HK and produced the documents entitling him to the bus fare. To his disbelief he was told, “You have no case worker, how can we give you money?” Adnan felt that ISS-HK was toying with him and noticed the irony of a situation in which he had a duty lawyer, but had no place to sleep, no food and no bus money.

Unimpressed with such incompetence Adnan’s indignation rose and ISS-HK responded by calling the police to remove him. His file was transferred to the ISS-HK branch in Mongkok, where a day later he encountered the same ineptitude and again the police was called when he expressed his displeasure. “I understand how the system is going on” he laments “ISS guaranteed my release but now they just take salary like the duty lawyer and refuse to give me something to eat.”

Enlightened by hardship this perceptive and assertive refugee explains, “I have a mind. I understand that I have a duty lawyer that push my case. How much money do they pay her? But they don’t give me food? I don’t have the necessary to live, shelter, what I need to eat, but ISS has salary. That is what I am surprised! How can I live like this? They think I don’t need to eat?”

Adnan explains, “I am a technician for aluminum frames and glass. I can cut mirror glass so many sheets in one hour. In one hour I can cut ten mirrors! I can easily make money to survive, but I cannot work as a refugee. Inside CIC I had place to sleep, I eat three times, the machine wash my clothes, I play basketball every afternoon and now look at me … I am a homeless beggar!”

Hong Kong’s culture of rejection made a rapid impression on this young man. “I know the system” he elucidates “They punish you for coming here, so you don’t call others to come to Hong Kong. Me I understand this when they asked me, ‘Who called you to Hong Kong?’ They want to know if anyone told me to come, but I came by myself to save my life. I don’t know what I will do truly!”

“When I see the situation, it is true that in CIC at 9pm I sleep like a baby. How do I sleep in garden (Kowloon Park)? It is very hot. ISS has the power but they don’t know how to use it. God willing, I wish they give the power to somebody else who knows how to use it. This is the problem with the refugee situation here. ISS say to me ‘There are many people before you’ but how do they know my situation? I don’t have the necessary for life. How can I live? If they have too many new people they must organize. ‘CIC WAS HEAVEN!’ I shouted to ISS”.

Until 16 August 2014 Adnan had spent a month sleeping on the streets where he met other refugees who had slept rough for 3 to 4 months. Is this the humanitarian service Hong Kong offers those seeking asylum?

Humanity recaptured in death

Aug 13th, 2014 | Advocacy | Comment

Amir’s lifeless body lay three days in sweltering heat in the refugee slum he called home for several years. His unremarkable existence was diminished by destitution, indifference and isolation until a friend noticed that he hadn’t been seen around and wasn’t answering the phone. This Bangladeshi father of three would become better known to the refugee community in death than he was in life.

Refugees who die in Hong Kong do not fall victims of treacherous waters, or of violent outbreaks in camps, but are snuffed out by immiseration and depression that chokes them progressively day after day, year after year. While they are rare, and statistics are unavailable, the deaths and suicides reported suggest crimes of omission by those responsible for the health and safety of refugees.

By denying a ray of hope to individuals seeking international protection, Hong Kong Government has elevated passive rejection allegedly to a cruel policy. Instead of shooting rubber bullets across borders, towing boats out to sea, or segregating asylum seekers in camps (activities understood to be illegal), the authorities promote a policy that makes waiting indefinite and unbearable.

Hope keeps people alive and despair robs refugees of mental health first and of physical strength later. While Amir cannot speak for himself, his suffering was witnessed by those who shared his fate and experienced the cruelty of an asylum sphere that offers anything but protection. At the tragic news, his friends united in solidarity to recapture in death the humanity Amir didn’t enjoy in life.

The Refugee Union mobilized on an unprecedented scale to spread the news and fundraise to repatriate the body, as is customary in South Asian cultures. The task was formidable as funeral rites and airfreight to Dhaka required raising 50,000 HKD in a few days. Compassionate members canvassed tirelessly the Muslim community and the figure was doubled with heartfelt condolence for Amir’s family.

It isn’t hard to imagine the desperate solitude of Amir’s final moments. He probably contemplated his failure, interment in inhospitable foreign land, the tragedy befalling his helpless family, the cruelty of circumstances he couldn’t overcome, the injustice of a world wounded by moral blindness. Amir couldn’t have imagined the love and compassion his death would arise.

All life is sacred. Human life especially so, and the inevitability of death is a reminder of the common thread that unites transiently every human being. Together we must resist the globalized indifference towards undesirable social groups to celebrate the dignity and humanity we share.

Amir’s existence was snuffed out by a culture of rejection that mercilessly diminished the lives of 14,000 refugees who sought sanctuary in Hong Kong. It is reassuring that the indignity Amir suffered in life was vindicated by brothers and sisters who finally recaptured his humanity in death.

Government pays for kindergarten transportation

Aug 11th, 2014 | Advocacy | Comment

On 28 January 2014 Vision First wrote to the Security Bureau urging Hong Kong Government to provide full assistance for kindergarten children because refugees cannot work or engage in other income generating activities. We questioned the paradoxical situation in which the authorities oddly waved school fees without providing transportation for children and accompanying parents.

The orthodox NGO approach was fundraising to fill this welfare gaps, year after year pleading for donors to have pity on and support little boys and girls missing out on an early education for lack money. The Vision First approach instead was to press the authorities to live up to obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (“UNCRC”), thereby ensuring that all children went to school, not just a few lucky ones favoured by NGO workers.

It is noteworthy that such solutions take considerably more time and effort than passing round hats, but the outcome is significantly more satisfactory when a level playing field is establish that stops disadvantaging families with weaker NGO ties, Muslims who do not attend church and parents whose dignity is affected by begging. Refugees should not have to humiliate themselves to receive what they are entitled to.

Despite its abundant wealth, Hong Kong Government has shown not just a flagrant disregard for the plight of refugees, but a complete disrespect for domestic and international law by avoiding its constitutional obligations. Vision First reiterates that as long as refugees are legally banned from working, the government has the duty to meet this population’s basic needs – including kindergarten education.

There is good news for distressed refugee families at last. Refugee Union parents report that ISS-HK started to refund transportation for children and accompany parents, not only for last month, but from February 2014 when the Security Bureau copied this letter to the Secretary for Education, the Director of Social Welfare and the Controller of the Student Financial Assistance Agency.

Vision First strongly encourages parents to request full refunds from ISS-HK and not be discouraged by unjustified excuses that such assistance is provided on a “case by case basis”. Refugees are becoming increasingly aware that if all refugees are banned from working, then all refugees qualify for full government assistance that must not make a beggar of anyone!

Refugees are reminded of these steps to achieve welfare goals and break NGO dependency:

  1. Write politely to ISS-HK case workers demanding assistance (this relates to all basic need);
  2. Write firmly to ISS-HK supervisors and managers, making copies of letters;
  3. Complain in person at the SWD Head-office at 8/F, 213 Queen’s Road East, Wanchai;
  4. Request advice and support from the Refugee Union at refugeeunionhk@gmail.com.
On 4 February 2014 refugee parents and 19 kindergarten children met lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung to push for greater kindergarten assistance. Vision First couples activism with lobbying to ensure that tactical goals are reached while the longterm goals remains the right to work for all refugees.

SWD fails to improve the food distribution system

Aug 9th, 2014 | Advocacy | Comment

The refugee protest against International Social Service (ISS-HK) started on 11 February 2014 triggered by deep dissatisfaction with the food distribution system. Members of the Refugee Union made public complaints that emergency rations were of exceptionally poor quality and worth far less than the official 1200$. Refugees demanded itemized prices to stop questionable practices and on 17 February 2014 called on the ICAC to investigate the SWD contractor. No statement has yet been released by the graft-busters.

Six months later the process is as rotten as it is unbearable for refugees. ISS-HK case workers are unable to ensure that food items selected by refugees are actually delivered by the seven ISS-appointed shops. The discrepancies between food items selected and delivered cannot be explained by clerical errors alone. Most alarmingly, collections continue to be generally reduced by one third and are nowhere near the full value promised to refugees by the SWD. Why?

Complaints are endless: pork is distributed to Muslims; rotten vegetables and eggs are the norm; labelled food is frequently passed expiration date – regrettably even baby formula; insects contaminate rice and feces spoil flour; fish so rotten it sparks indignation; food quality is so substandard that desperate refugees sell it for a fraction of its value than eat it. Vision First understands that the trading of rations by unscrupulous middlemen is being investigated by the police.

Although shops should deal with exchanges, items are replaced only for the most vocal of refugees and after warnings are made to expose the cheating. It appears that media exposure is the only deterrent, where honesty is in short supply. Complaints should also be professionally handled, but invariably the answers are the same, “Take it or leave it! You don’t have to pay for this food. If you have a problem call your ISS case worker!  That usually proves to be a frustrating waste of time.

On the other hand, many refugees are still reluctant to speak out about the food crisis because of concerns that citizens will think they came to Hong Kong to fill their stomachs, not for protection. “I don’t want my friends to see me complain about welfare” explained a seasoned refugee “I told them that I came to seek asylum and they would not understand why I am complaining about free food.” Regrettably, civil society and the press are showing little concern for such widespread abuse.

In fact, food and water are vitally important on the scale of human needs for 6000 refugees who depend entirely on government assistance to meet basic requirements, irrespective of NGO efforts that cannot be expected to fill such massive gaps. A refugee put it plainly, “I collected a chicken, a bag of rice, a can of tuna and some vegetables for a ten day period. That is enough for two days. What am I expected to eat for the next eight? ISS is cheating refugees every day.” 

Six months of protest haven’t improved the system. While outspoken refugees receive better assistant, the silent majority continue to suffer abuse in a failed system. Meanwhile the government appears to be indifferent to such human suffering.

Refugees have learnt through experience that relief comes only to those who complain directly at the Social Welfare Department head-quarters, where social workers are compelled to put pressure on their colleagues at ISS-HK. In the words of a savvy refugee, “My suffering taught me that I can only trust myself. There is no cash falling from the sky and only I can support my family. If I want change in these conditions, I need to fight for my rights. That is why I joined the Refugee Union.” 

Vision First urges refugees with complaints and problems to approach the SWD office in person:

On 8 August 2014, lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung supported the Refugee Union’s submission of a protest letter to SWD against inadequate welfare assistance. The authorities choose not to listen, but the refugee community choose to express their indignation at an unfair and potentially unlawful treatment.

Refugee Union demo on 8 August 2014

Aug 7th, 2014 | Advocacy | Comment

FCC welcomes two Somali journalists

Aug 7th, 2014 | Advocacy | Comment

“In the morning we hugged our family like we might never see them again because every day in Mogadishu journalists may be killed in the crossfire, or murdered by Al-Shabaab” says Ibrahim as he enjoys a meal at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) in Hong Kong. He continues, “For a big story we would bring two or three cameramen to record the scene together in case one was wounded or shot dead.”

The Somali government persecutes journalist who don’t report the propaganda, but Al-Shabaab is a clear threat. In 2009 Ibrahim was kidnapped by the group and never expected to see his wife and five children until he was ransomed by his employer, Universal TV. Undeterred he continued to work from Kenya until mounting death threats posed an imminent danger. In August 2013 he fled to Hong Kong where his colleague Shafi had sought asylum eight months earlier.

“My first encounter with Vision First” Shafi says “was during a demonstration at the Legislative Council when dozens of refugees were invited to a conference room to discuss welfare shortcomings with lawmaker Fernando Cheung. It was a year before other groups also took this advocacy path. The following week Vision First introduced me to the FCC which regrettably turned down my application and made me feel very unwelcome.”

For reasons unclear, the Foreign Correspondent Club was reluctant to accept as members first Shafi and later Ibrahim, despite their credentials and, most vitally, having lost everything to pursue their profession with outstanding courage and integrity. Reporting the reality of the factional Somali civil war, with multiple interests vying for supremacy, can get anyone killed, but exposing the intrigues of Al-Shabaab is a death sentence. “We reported what we investigate. We could not keep quiet. This is our job” Ibrahim explains.

Vision First is dedicated to empowering refugees by strengthening self-reliance within a system constrained by a culture of rejection. In June 2014, non-executive director Robert Tibbo and solicitor Jonathan Man escorted the two Somali journalists to the Foreign Correspondent Club on a mission. They were determined that the prestigious club, established in 1917, admit two foreign correspondents that sacrificed more than most to uphold the highest code of practice of their profession. Respect was due and respect was granted.

“After a year struggling like a beggar, for the first time I feel that I am a journalist again” Shafi rejoices “Refugees are often kept out of sight and denied even the dignity of being human beings. As a member of the FCC now I feel that I am alive again and I am part of the community, even if I cannot work. I want to devote my time and energy to developing the Refugee Union and help other refugees achieve their potential too.”

It is likely unprecedented that refugees on Immigration recognizance were admitted to a private club in Hong Kong. Vision First celebrates this success with the wish that other clubs and societies will value individuals seeking membership for who they are, without tripping over meaningless rules to produce ID cards or passports. Meantime Ibrahim and Shafi are possibly the happiest journalists in town. Congratulations! You deserve it!

Ibrahim and Shafi celebrate admission to one of Hong Kong’s oldest and most exclusive clubs.

HK Bar Association on refugees detained at CIC

Aug 6th, 2014 | Advocacy | Comment

On 26 May 2014, Vision First had a meeting with the Hong Kong Bar Association to discuss concerns relating to refugees that appear to have been overlooked in the deployment of the Unified Screening Mechanism (USM). The Bar Association was informed that some failed torture claimants are detained in Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre (CIC) without knowledge of, or opportunity to apply for USM protection in violation of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights (Art. 3) and Refugee Convention (Art. 33). Refugees are entitled to launch a USM claim even when detained pending removal or deportation after their torture claims were rejected.

An absence of information and application procedures inside CIC puts protection claimants at a considerable disadvantage when resisting pressure from Immigration officers to ‘voluntarily depart’ Hong Kong. In such a questionable legal black hole and in the absence of legal representation, it is suspected that unlawful administrative detention might adversely impact the rights and freedom of detained refugees, who should be released on recognizance pending determination of their USM claims.

Further, Vision First drew the Bar Association’s attention to other problems including, bail applications for refugees on remand, applications for judicial reviews of failed USM cases, jailing of refugees in prisons instead of CIC, unlawful administrative detention, magistracy bias against recognizance form holders, fair representation by duty lawyers, duty lawyers’ concerns to perform according to DLS expectations and the overall shortage of pro bono legal service.

31 May 2014 – Hong Kong Bar Association letter to the Immigration Department

3 June 2014 – Immigration Department letter to the Hong Kong Bar Association

Click image to view the letter by the Hong Kong Bar Association

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