Homeless refugees, both new-arrivals and veterans, frequently spend nights in McDonald’s especially during cold winter months. Prohibited from working and inadequately supported by the Social Welfare Department, a growing number of refugees are becoming homeless and sleeping in parks, passageways and under flyer-overs. McDonald restaurants are the only establishments that offer safety and comparable tranquility overnight. Similarly to impoverished residents, refugees huddle up on benches with their few belongings after midnight and return to the street at the crack of dawn, before their presence inconveniences breakfast customers. It is disgraceful that Hong Kong Government fails to support its poorest citizens and reduces refugees to dehumanizing destitution.
Hello, this is Outsider. I’m writing again because I find that the article published by The Standard on 5 October 2015 is misleading, as it mixes up the issues of seeking asylum and seeking employment. The reporter writes about dodgy agencies in India that promise work though asylum visas. The featured website claims, “Hong Kong Asylum Visa.”
As a refugee I am deeply disappointed with the government propaganda broadcasted by the media reporting illegal activities by refugees who are then called indistinctly: illegal immigrants, criminals, job seekers and abusers of the asylum system. The Immigration Department is always ready to make press releases when it arrests claimants working (link).
Some people consider the above to be true. Some people get angry and try to advocate and defend refugees. In interviews, journalists should ask more revealing questions. For example, they should ask: Why are some refugees forced to work? Why do some refugees commit crimes? Why do some refugees get involved with drugs? I hear many advocates answer with reasons about the lack of government assistance, including the biggest problem: high rents in Hong Kong.
It seems to me that many fail to grasp the bigger picture. Is it possible that the wrong questions are asked and the wrong answers given? There is no doubt that government propaganda is winning the day, by shifting the focus on a small minority of refugee caught breaking the law.
But are we the real problem? Would the problem be solved and the debate end, if no refugee ever committed a crime (NB: working illegally is criminalized)? Are refugees the root of the problem, or is the system a problem? Is stopping refugees from working and committing crimes the answer to wasting hundreds of millions of dollars in the failed welfare/legal system?
To repeat, working illegally, committing crimes, joining gangs and pushing drugs are the external, visible symptoms of the illness which is the failed USM and welfare system. The real question is why journalists are not researching and reporting on the failed USM and the welfare/legal ramifications?
Is it possible to heal the illness by just treating the symptoms? Can the truth be uncovered by asking the wrong questions? What are the underlying problems that government propaganda is avoiding?
People who wish to understand the big picture might ask: Why did two thousand Vietnamese who were working illegally, recently applied for asylum? Why are criminals and drug dealers masquerading as refugees? Why are dodgy employment agency offering “Asylum Visas”?
There is a subtle difference between asking these two questions: 1) Why are refugees working and 2) Why are illegal workers claiming asylum? For uncritical readers it is a question of semantics. For the government it demonizes refugees. For some citizens it is proof of abuse. For a refugee fleeing persecution, the difference is life and death and an unbearable life in Hong Kong.
It appears that the government is astutely orchestrating propaganda to cast refugees in a bad light and turn public opinion against the refugee community. I am worried that the constant negative reporting and Immigration press releases are brainwashing the public and generating a ‘push back’ sentiment that will unfairly harm refugees stuck in this hostile city. The article below should be titled “Twenty-two immigration offenders arrested – as 37 refugees offered protection out of 17,000 claimants since 1992″.
As an African refugee three years in Hong Kong, I appreciate the intertwining reasons why refugees escape to what they consider “safe havens” in developed countries. They are compelled to throw caution to the wind and embarked on life’s most dangerous journey.
According to media reports, they pay large sums to smugglers who have turned their misfortune into an opportunity to earn millions of USD across different channels. Let’s not forget that refugees are not assured of reaching the Promised Land (Europe) and over 3000 lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea this year.
It’s not that we refugees don’t know the risks we are facing. But for the majority of us these are risk worth taking as our homeland is often more dangerous than the journey. It resonates with me when they say, “It is better to die trying to flee, than doing nothing!”
For spectators sitting in comfort, it may seem like an exaggeration. I have heard many comments being thrown around in Hong Kong about desperate migrants and refugees. Most critics and haters will never understand the HELL refugees suffer in their native countries. And this happens for a variety of reasons.
First, the government propaganda doesn’t make it easier for Hongkongers to appreciate the underlying issues motivating escape and the right to claim asylum. The government discourse disseminates biased, and sometimes ridiculous, information with a view to marginalize, dehumanize and criminalize refugees who exercise a fundamental human right.
Second, the local media does not cast us in good light. We are called parasites, criminals, economic migrants and abusers of asylum. It is no wonder that the acceptance rate for refugees in Hong Kong is 0.3%. Despite 1.5 million once being refugees, Hongkongers today (conveniently) believe that none of the current 10,000 asylum seekers deserve protection. How ironic!
Third, the status determination process is shrouded in such secrecy that refugees understand little about it. The onset of USM was welcomed with much skepticism by professionals in the asylum field. This is because the previous systems failed miserably in granting protection. One year on, the USM has a dubious reputation as a process that hoodwinks refugees and those believing Hong Kong offers fair screening. How hypocritical!
Though refugees crossing the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean are in great risk of losing their lives, nevertheless they are more likely to be protected if they make it to Europe. It is very unfortunate that this crisis is happening. Its occurrence is however hardly surprising. In this, Hong Kong insensitive response to the Syrian crisis is not ambiguous.
When the Western countries invaded and destabilized North Africa, under the guise of fighting terrorism through NATO, they destroyed structures that held diverse communities together. For example, Western powers armed militias to overthrow the former Libyan strongman Murmur Gaddafi. They provided arms, logistical support and technical advice until Gaddafi was terminated.
I believe this happened because Gaddafi did not play ball with, nor bow to Western influence in Africa. Instead he vigorously opposed neo-colonial policies and the modern globalisation that ensure that Western conglomerates continued to exploit African resources with minimal benefits for local populations. He was a great advocate of the United States of Africa. So am I.
Before Gaddafi was killed he was involved in major campaigns across the African continent to bring all the countries and people together. He also offered scholarships to tens of thousands of students, yearly. But his efforts and influence were not received well by Western powers. He was perceived as a big threat to their grasp on natural resources and corrupt leaders. With Gaddafi out of the way, the 400 year pillage of Africa by Western states continues … and refugees flow north.
As for Syria, the US should take all Syrian refugees home. The US wanted a regime change in Syria through undemocratic means. The world can clearly see the consequences of western military power. They invaded Iraq on the pretext that the country held Weapons of Mass Destruction and Iraq is today a shadow of its former self. Then the warmongers moved to Syria to topple the Assad regime.
The suffering, destruction and death brought to innocent people is unimaginable. It is high time that Western powers take responsibilities for their actions. It is convenient that the US is far removed from Libya, Syria and Iraq, otherwise the States would be the ideal destination for all displaced refugees. Some commentators are rightly blaming the West for destabilizing the region and creating the refugee crisis.
Are the chickens coming home to roost?
The time when Hong Kong received thousands of Vietnamese asylum seekers may still be a vivid memory for some, though it is probably fading for most others. As indicated in the article below, it is true that a concerted response by the government helped to avert a greater crisis.
Yet it is often forgotten that the response was humanitarian at first, though later transformed to mark the extraneousness of unwelcome arrivals from law-abiding Hong Kong society. The camps became places of vice and lawlessness under Hong Kong’s watch. Their depiction as such was never delete from public discourse affecting policy to this day.
The present reality suggested in the article below of government-engineered hostility towards asylum seekers finds its roots in the Vietnamese era. We no longer have camps, but refugee slums have assuming the same function. The self-serving demonization of asylum seekers who take up Hong Kong’s offer of asylum continues.
As it was the case back then, asylum seekers are legally marginalized, confined in spaces of immiseration that challenge their survival. They are portrayed as abusive, criminally-minded economic migrants with little though to the reason why such survival strategies are adopted today as they were back then.
It is reproachable that at times persons whose opinions might be esteemed, and should thus carefully word and base statements on facts, cast judgments that verge on xenophobic intolerance, contrary to the best interest of Hong Kong. As a commentator in a local newspaper recently observed, “We often say we want to be a world Asian city, but we behave like a village”.
One example is Mr. Fung Keung’s op-ed published on 8 October in the China Daily, which contains several mistakes to say the least.
First, a rise of arrested asylum seekers from 683 to 904 in a three-year span is hardly indicative of a crime surge when contemporaneously asylum applications increased several folds to over 10,000. Comparatively, it could be argued that the crime rate among asylum seekers has decreased over the period, and indeed is quite low given that many work to support themselves. It is notorious that welfare assistance for asylum seekers is insufficient to make ends meet.
Second, that asylum seekers are arrested for crimes other than working illegally to a larger extent than before may not necessary show that asylum seekers are turning to violence. Rather it may be dependent on which crimes and who is policed in society, and related priorities of law enforcement.
Third, Fung hints that the victims “are believed to be Hong Kong citizens” and asylum seekers should not be accepted in Hong Kong because the city owes them nothing. Rather asylum seekers, when compared to Singapore, make Hong Kong dirty and unsafe, hurting citizens who would otherwise live in a peaceful environment.
Overlooking for a moment international and domestic legal obligations towards refugees, Vision First queries, does Fung really think that local citizens do not commit crimes? Who does Fung think are the employers and recruiters of asylum seekers? Who does Fung believe are the people whose behavior is learnt and with whom connections are made in local prisons by asylum seekers? Perhaps an overview of police charts would have helped Fung formulate more accurate opinions.
Fourth, it is arguable that asylum seekers borrow money from their smugglers, leaving them no choice but to commit crimes to repay such debts. This would certainly be a situation akin to trafficking, in which case Fung should be concerned of Hong Kong responsibilities in setting up a policy framework that tolerates such circumstances. In reality, research supports conclusions quite opposite to Fung’s intolerant views. Vision First would certainly appreciate if Fung agreed to disclose the research he conducted to ground such opinions. A rapid search online did not produce satisfactory results.
Fifth, Fung argues that it is “common sense” that “tells us that religious and political persecution in these countries is extremely rare”. Vision First cannot but query if the same “common sense” is used by immigration officers and adjudicator when screening asylum seekers. The increasing number of rejections being quashed by court judges, often for failure to fully appraise country of origin information, would certainly call for a revision of such unhelpful “common sense”.