A refugee blogger distressingly underscored the reality that crushes hope in his community. He wrote, “Hong Kong immigration delays hundreds of old cases because the answer would be positive”. Vision First has been informed by several refugees that Immigration officers had acknowledged, off-the-record, that their claims were strong, but no decision was ever made to accept or reject. Why?
Last week a refugee who sought asylum in August 2005 reported that he was summoned for yet another seemingly pointless interview. He lamented, “Three of us escaped to Hong Kong together. One went back, one left for Europe and I still do interviews. I forget how many times.… Are they waiting for me to forget or make a mistake on my case?”
His friend, who arrived in Hong Kong in 2003, had this to say, “They keep telling me I have a good case. They said it twelve years ago when I was 25 and now I am getting old. My lawyer said that they don’t know what to do with my case. It’s unbelievable.”
A few considerations should be made:
First, the legal framework governing asylum isn’t to blame. It could certainly be improved, but it is acceptable. The problem is implementation and, in particularly, ultra-long assessment times that raise the aphorism “justice delayed is justice denied”. Frequently no further evidence is provided, as in the case of a recognized torture claimant accepted after 10 years without adding anything to his first statement. The above blogger commented, “They know that certain people will find a way that is convenient for the government” and four recent cases may illustrate his point.
Case One: arrived in HK in 2007 and opted for ‘voluntary departure’ in 2014; sought asylum in Holland and was recognized as a refugee three months later; received 1500 Euro to meet living expenses until he found a job.
Case Two: arrived in HK in 2013 and opted for ‘voluntary departure’ in 2014; sought asylum in France and was recognized as a refugee in six weeks; was given a 5 years permit to stay with working rights and a monthly stipend until he found a job.
Case Three: a screened-in torture claimant of 2013, closed his protection case to ‘voluntarily depart’ in December 2014 for a European country where he lodged an asylum claim. His Hong Kong lawyer supported the decision because recognized refugees do not enjoy work rights and exceptions are hard to obtain and limited in scope.
Case Four: arrived in HK in 2013 and is utterly disillusioned about protection and future prospects. For the sake of wife and children, whom he is unable to assist back home, he plans to close his case and return to a neighbouring country. He will sell property and seek asylum in Europe.
Second, Europe is often mentioned as an idyllic place to seek asylum. However it is increasingly harder for people intending to seek asylum to reach the Old Continent amid securitization of border controls that make the journey ever riskier. In Hong Kong a similar process occurs. But rather than the journey being made difficult, it is the asylum procedure that is made relentlessly harsh, so punitive that claimants decide to give up.
Third, when refugees don’t give up despite Immigration bosses wanting nothing more than for them “to take their troubles elsewhere”, they are forced to repeatedly live a past that they would rather forget. A past of trauma and persecution that is revived every time they are called in for interviews.
Such an asylum mechanism affects justice in our city as we are reminded that the failure to treat anyone fairly, is ultimately a failure to treat everyone fairly.
I escaped political persecution in Africa in 2004 to save my life in Hong Kong where I have been stranded for 10 years without an end in sight. Like most refugees bounced around by Immigration, I am very upset with the asylum system and the total lack of respect for our problems, worries and fears.
What Immigration is doing is not just inhuman treatment, they ignore our human rights. It goes beyond that – the way they treat us is insulting. You cannot ignore somebody for ten years. For a while you can do it and it can be qualified as inhuman treatment, but when they ignore basic rights too long, it goes beyond this level. It becomes personal because they insult people’s dignity!
Hong Kong Immigration delays hundreds of old cases because the answer would be positive. They are not stupid. They would not keep unwanted people on the streets for 10 years, because then immigration control would be a joke. If they tolerate our presence it means that we have a right to stay. They don’t want to make a determination, because it would be a positive one!
Why don’t they want to take responsibility? Because if they reject us then we have a document that we can take to the courts showing rejection and that would be subject to judicial reviews that Immigration would likely lose. So the strategy is “Say Nothing” and leave people begging in the street. Avoid making a negative decision that could land Immigration in trouble.
There is considerable mental suffering that forces people to find other ways. Like the guys who buys a fake passport and leaves Hong Kong. It is rumoured that many have done it. Theoretically there must be a secret reason to put people under such mental pressure. There must be an unofficial expectation that refugees will find another solution and take their troubles elsewhere.
But Immigration does not explain what the expected outcomes might be. They never explain the Non-Protection Solutions and if these solutions are logically unavoidable. They know that certain people will find a way that is convenient for the government – though unfair for refugees – like marriage, moving to another country, smuggling out and closing asylum claims through so-called ‘voluntary departures’.
This is unfair. Immigration should not be treating people like this. They should be screening and determining, accepting or rejecting. Or else the rule of law is dead. Officers should not play games with our lives expecting possible lateral solutions to keep the refugee acceptance rate at zero-percent. They are ignoring the law. The law seems quite straightforward to me. It is logical, but it is not fairly applied.
Last week my officer called me for a meeting. Then he said that he didn’t bring my file. He called me for an interview, but didn’t have my file? Is this ignorance or arrogance? If it is not his arrogance then it is his boss’ arrogance to treat me like I am a stupid nobody that doesn’t count.
His behaviour told me that I don’t matter. He said, “I don’t know. I am not sure what is in the file”. I was irritated. I was mad with him, so I shouted, “Why did you call me to CIC Clearance section? To waste my time? If this is a picnic then where is my sandwich?” When I asked for clarification, he said “I am not sure”. Hold on, if he is not sure then how can I be sure I will be protected after 10 years?
Greetings to all friends and readers. I am Aameen and I was born 38 years ago in India. I have been a refugee in Hong Kong for 8 years and I hope this message will be read by all refugees, human rights people, NGO people and lawmakers in Hong Kong. I thank Vision First for offering this opportunity.
Every human being that is free has rights, but refugees are prisoners in Hong Kong because we do not have freedom. We cannot work so we are desperately poor. We cannot live in good place without money. We cannot eat what we like without money. We cannot take bus without money. We cannot phone without money. We cannot even write letter home without money.
Why in Hong Kong the lawmakers treat us worse than prisoners? We cannot rent room or buy any food, water, clothes, shoes and other daily things without money. Here for example, everybody whether they are rich or they are poor, whether they are educated or they are uneducated person, they can choose which toothpaste they prefer. Only refugees and prisoners cannot choose toothpaste flavour!
Refugees in Hong Kong must use all daily things and food what kind the ISS distributor give us. Dear Respectful Lawmaker, why refugees don’t have the right to work to buy what they need? If we are free people, is it not our right to work and buy and use what we need? We are refugees, not prisoners.
In 2011 I was sentenced 15 months prison for working illegally because the ISS didn’t give me the things I need. The Respectful Tuen Mun Court send me to Pik Uk Prison and inside there whatever they give me I use and I follow the rules. I ask the Respectful Lawmaker: Why in prison I can work and buy what I need, but in the outside world I cannot work and buy what I need?
So I politely tell you that even if we live outside with good character, refugees in Hong Kong do not have freedom and are treated worse than prisoners. How we feel freedom if we have no right to work and to buy what we need? Every human being has different choices and every free person has the right to choose. Why then refugees are not free to choose?
It means that for Hong Kong Government the refugees are not human beings. If we consider the world law as good for humanity and to protect human life, why the law in Hong Kong is not good for refugees and does not protect our life? Is this law good for human rights? Is it good for humanity?
So I have these questions for the Respectful Lawmaker: Why you don’t protect refugees? Why you don’t give basic human rights to refugees? Even if we forget about refugees and consider to the simple fact that we are all human beings, why you don’t respect refugees as human beings?
It is very sad that the Hong Kong lawmakers make a big difference between human beings and refugees! I will not request for any visa or work permit, I only and politely request treating refugees with respect as human beings. I ask why refugees don’t have fundamental rights? We always read in the newspaper that dogs and cats have more rights than refugees. Why must this be true?
From my point of view, I cannot understand who they consider refugees in Hong Kong, if refugee have no protection, no work, half assistance, no human rights and no respect. The law in Hong Kong pretends to give us full freedom, home, food and clothes, but we cannot even rent room and get enough food to eat. So please tell us, are we refugees or prisoners?
Dear Respectful Lawmakers, why are your human rights and my human rights separated?
(name, Immigration and contact details provided)
I am Pakistani refugee and I arrived in Hong Kong in 2009 from Jehlum where my life was in mortal danger and police cannot help and protect me. I traveled along the Karakorum Highway, on the Silk Road, one of the wonders of the world, to a safe place because my family enemies want to kill me.
On my mind I have a question: Why do many people doubt the reason and way refugees come to Hong Kong? They doubt about this very much, so I will tell you my reason and my long trip along land from Islamabad to Hong Kong. I have never flown in an airplane in my life.
I was happy in my motherland Pakistan and I was having a good job running my own business. But after my father’s death, my other family members wanted to hold and take all our land and other property. At the time my father passed I was 18 years old. Over a few years the fighting get very worse and they killed my older brother and also want to kill me.
I was lucky to run away to another Islamabad to save my life, but they are strong and rich and find me there. I escape again and never feel my life is safe in Pakistan. In my country who have more money buy the police. Then the police refuse to protect victims who cannot pay more. They will also make false charges to arrest and put long time in jail those victims until they find money.
How did I know about refugees in HK and why I choose HK? I had some friends who were before here as refugees and they teach me how I can come, what documents I need and how much time and money it take. At that time I sell my business very cheap because hurry to get a passport with China visa.
I knew that I must reach Shenzhen (China) and that was my first target. I did not choose airplane because by road is much cheaper. I buy bus ticket from Islamabad to Gillgit, which is one and a half day drive. From there I take another bus to Sost, the Pakistan/China border which take more two days.
I buy again bus ticket from Sost to Kashgar (China) where I pass again immigration and they give me entry into China. But my target point is still very far because I need to reach Shenzhen, where Hong Kong is very near and I can easy enter. From Kashgar I buy train ticket to Urumqi, the big and old China city. Then I take a bus to Shanghai, another to Guangzhou and last one to Shenzhen.
I get a lot or problems in China all the way about food and language that is very different from my country. I reach Shenzhen at 11 o’clock at night and buy a SIM card for my mobile to contact my friend to ask him to please tell me how I enter Hong Kong because my visa is only for 23 days in China.
I stay in a hotel in Shenzhen because I am very tired as I was in train and bus for more than two weeks without rest as I carry on my journey. So the next morning my friend call me and tell me “You need to pay HK dollars 5500 for some men and they can help you to enter in Hong Kong by sea on a boat.” [In 2014 smugglers charged 14000 RMB for an illegal passage to Hong Kong]
At night the same day I meet the men near the Lo Wu McDonald and I pay them the money. They arrange for me a boat to take me to Hong Kong. They drive me in a small car to the seaside and a Chinese boy driver and other 8 people I see on the boat. It is 12 o’clock at night and the man go back in the car. I sit on the small boat that I worry it is very dangerous and only good to catch small fish.
After two hours already in the sea, some HK Marine Police boat come to us and tell us “Hands Up and show your identity!” It is very unlawful what I was doing, because without visa documents we can’t enter in any country, but I must find a safe place to save my life.
After I show my passport to the marine police, they say, “You are safe. Don’t worry!” and they bring me inside police station. From there they send me two days later to CIC detention center. I was bailed out in October 2009 and until today I am waiting to start my interview process.
(Name, Immigration and contact details provided)
It was almost 15 years ago but I remember the day like it was yesterday. I came to Hong Kong to save my life. I had to find a safe place after fleeing Pakistan in the summer of 2001. After many years in 2010, my torture claim was rejected and I was charged with “remaining in Hong Kong unlawfully”. I was sent to prison for eight months for what I consider seeking asylum here.
When I was arrested, I was in shock … suddenly everything changed and I felt like a criminal. Immigration does not issue “asylum visas” so how are refugees expected to remain legally in Hong Kong while they wait for decision on their cases? Some refugees waited years for UNHCR to reject their case and didn’t surrender to Immigration. After rejection they were also prosecuted and jailed. Is it fair?
In June 2011 I was released from Pik Up Prison and transferred to Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre (“CIC”) for deportation procedures. The government wanted to send me back to Pakistan where I told them my life was in serious danger. But nobody believed me. After I went inside CIC the office-in-charge took me to a room and shouted at me, “You must go back to your country!”
I said I would not go back, because my life is still not safe in Pakistan. After some questions, I had to sign some documents, then they sent me to the hall where a lot of people were waiting. Every day the officers force and force me to go back to my homeland. They didn’t’ listen. They didn’t believe. They didn’t understand. But why I choose more and more detention?
In this world, I think, most important and precious for every human being, after the air we breathe, is human rights and freedom. I always refused to be deported because I will face danger in Pakistan. Even if my arms and legs are bound in Hong Kong, I must prefer to stay here than return to be tortured to death.
When my trouble started we were 5 guys pressured by officers every day to leave Hong Kong. There were 2 Pakistani and 3 from India, but one India guy they sent back after a few weeks. And here I tell you a story that perhaps you will find hard to believe, but I have proof that I can show you. It was also reported in the South China Morning Post one day in September 2011.
The Immigration officers always force me to go back, but how I go back when still my problem is same since 2001? After many weeks the Immigration still refuse to give me bail out. I stopped eating and I was getting every day more and more sick. My hands and arms were shacking. They were not in my control. My arms were like rubber, they move and not stop. Then I was given a bed in prison hospital.
But Immigration still forced me to go back when I am sick. I was very tense. I was very scared. I didn’t know how many days or weeks I stopped eating. One night I went to toilet around 2am and I fell down. I could not stand up because my body was too weak already. My mind stopped working. Some friends helped to bring me out of the toilet. The officer-in-charge was shocked when he saw my condition.
The prison doctor called the emergency ambulance and they brought me out to Tuen Mun Hospital. I was in shock. I felt I was dreaming. The doctor injected me some medicine. After the check-up I was returned to prison hospital. I don’t know the exact date or month, but this happened during my detention at CIC, from 4 June 2011 to 20 June 2012. And they kept pressuring me to go back!
Later I learn the word “Hunger Strike”. For me it was just not eating as I wanted to die so the officers stop forcing me to go back my country. During the hunger strike three times my situation was very bad and I think I was dying. My body had no power. I don’t know how much weight I lost but my arms were skin and bones. My mind did not work and everything was like dreaming. Even my hands were not in control. Why I wanted to die and not live? I better loved detention and didn’t want to be deported. In prison I had life and breath and water. In my country I have fear and death. Why should I go back?
From childhood I read in books that for human life two things are most important: oxygen and water. So I had these two important things in my detention. More than 50 days I stayed inside the prison hospital. Many times they took me to Tuen Mun hospital. As a Muslim I believe in God and maybe I still have life because God is always with me.
I made 78 days hunger strike for my safety and for my freedom. Refugees who were inside with me are still in Hong Kong and they saw my arms become like sticks and my hands curl in like claws I could not move. I think the Merciful God gave me a new life and on 20 June 2012 Immigration give me bail out. Now even I forget my real birthday, because Immigration give me a new birthday.
So here in my mind I have a lot of questions. Was my long detention in CIC lawful? Were the law and the monthly notifications for further detention legal? The further detention made me hunger strike for 78 days. Even I was not a normal person, I was a prisoner. Even I had finished my sentenced in Pik Uk Prison. Even I was patient, but I could do nothing to make Immigration believe my case is real.
I stopped eating because I had no choice. If I go back I die suffering, but in prison I die peacefully. I stopped eating to try for freedom, to save my life. The law kept me in prison, but the hunger strike released me. The law is a very friendly thing for humanity. The country makes the law for a good and happy society. So we always try to do good and within the law. But every law is not always a right law.
I say respectfully that in my detention the law showed me the real face of death. I came very close to the world of death. Kindly believe me because every not eating day and hard suffering night, I saw the Main Gate of the Death World. But the good law cannot make me safe. The law make me dead. And luckily or unluckily I am writing to you about my detention time. And please I don’t want to be hurt more because of what I write now.
As human beings we must follow, accept and respect the law, but kindly I request that please you make the law with unity and humanity. And I hope that all the asylum seekers in Hong Kong and inside CIC detention will always follow the law. Even if we can make hunger strike for freedom, but we must do it peacefully and don’t break the law, because the law is the law.
(Name, Immigration number and contact provided)
Vision First reports the case of a Bangladeshi refugee who sought asylum in 2008 and is still genuinely fearful of the danger he would face should he be returned to his country. His non-refoulement claim was rejected at first instance in September 2014 after more than six years of deliberation. The claimant is aware that Hong Kong has a perfect zero percent acceptance rate of Bangladeshi refugees since 1992. (Compare yearly acceptance rate of >40% in Australia)
On 7 October 2014, on routine reporting to the Immigration office in Mataukok, the claimant was summoned to an interview room where he was warned of imminent removal despite having filed an appeal with the Torture Claim Appeal Board within the allocated time. The claimant stated emphatically that he spoke little English and had trouble understanding what was being said to him. Of significance, neither a Bengali interpreter, nor a duty lawyer were present.
It is unclear what was discussed during the interview. The claimant reports that significant pressure was exerted on him to sign a document the significance of which he did not comprehend. While he had not requested to voluntarily depart Hong Kong, the Immigration officer handwrote a notice that he was made to sign. The document stated, “I understand if my appeal was also refused, I need to go back to Bangladesh”. Only after signing the document was the claimant allowed to leave the room.
The claimant warned the officer that his life would be in serious danger if he was returned to Bangladesh where political enemies were still searching for him eight years after he fled to Hong Kong. He first politely requested a photocopy of the notice and explained “because I don’t know what is says”. But a shouting match followed in which the officer refused to provide a copy and the claimant refused to leave. Eventually the officer left the interview room and returned five minutes later with a photocopy of the document.
On 9 October 2014, the claimant registered at Vision First seeking assistance against what, in our view, amounts to de facto rendition – the practice of handing over individuals from one jurisdiction to another with questionable consideration of the legal process. Facts lead us to believe that the notice was prepared as an acknowledgement and, by implication, a consent by the claimant to be removed to Bangladesh after his appeal will be rejected.
While circumstances surrounding this event are unclear, the claimant reports being intimidated by the conduct of the Immigration officer and being fearful of detention pending the outcome of his appeal, whereby he would have been denied an opportunity to apply for a judicial review at the High Court.
Vision First never before sighted such a handwritten notice which is inconsistent with domestic and international legal principles. It purports to represent an unconstrained declaration by a refugee who seems unwilling to pursue further legal remedies after the likely rejection of his appeal case, but actually its production is both sinister and disturbing. The notice is manifestly neither a legal document, nor a standard Immigration form. Vision First emailed its concerns to the Immigration Department and will monitor the liberty of this claimant.
Refugees are strongly urged not to sign documents from government departments, Immigration in particular, which they do not fully understand and for which legal advice and professional interpretation was not provided. If in any doubt, the correct procedure is to take the documents away to seek independent legal advice before signing them.
The Convention Against Torture has been extended to Hong Kong since 1992. Article 3(1) of that Convention provides that “no State Party shall expel, return or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture”.
Bound by this convention by choice – it should be noted - Hong Kong offers non-refoulement protection to claimants who subsequently enjoy an absolute right not to be removed pending the outcome of their claims. This protection is unequivocally coupled with social welfare rights, as claimants are not allowed to take up employment as they await decisions.
Under the enhanced torture screening system launched in December 2009, the Immigration Department has recognized 10 victims of torture – including four children, two born in Hong Kong (who would have been citizens in other jurisdictions). One successful claim in the previous system takes the total to 11 screened-in claimants out of 13000 in 21 years.
Hong Kong’s acceptance rate is .1% over two decades
compared to 20-40% yearly in developed countries.
The results are exceedingly eloquent. This risible percentage attests to a covert and unconstitutional Culture of Rejection that complies with the letter of the Immigration Ordinance (establishing an asylum process), while flouting the spirit of the Torture Convention (granting actual protection). The dislocation between administration and jurisprudence is complete and plain for all to see. How long will this duplicity last?
Until demonstrable changes are introduced and protection rates rise to, say, 5%, nobody will be under the illusion that goals other than protection motivated the ratification of this treaty. In the wake of such blatant, persistent hypocrisy, wouldn’t it be more honorable to rescind the Torture Convention? Why not withdraw gracefully, grant citizenship to existing claimants and slam the door shut? What is dysfunctional should be challenged and changed.
Regression is rarely desirable, but if the alternative is inflicting pointless suffering on thousands of refugees, then here is a bridge worth burning. Since UNHCR assessments were already legally halted, why not close down Immigration’s Torture Claim Assessment Branch? From a human rights prospective it would be praiseworthy.
In such an epochal shift, a few hundred Immigration officers would be reassigned to meaningful tasks; three-hundred-plus DLS lawyers would lose their bread-and-butter business; some NGOs would have to restrategize; and, crucially, Hong Kong’s acceptance rate would finally hit the dream target of zero-percent!
By contrast, asylum seekers would appreciate the frankness; thousands would get on with their lives; hundreds would seek refuge where the process is taken seriously. Meaninglessly interrupted lives would recommence; distraught families would plan reunions and their children would have a chance in life. At last, the shame asylum policies cast on our city would mercifully end.