“There is no chance for you to make an appeal. You should give up”, an African refugee reported being told by his duty lawyer a few weeks before withdrawing his asylum claim. According to the Standard, on top of 2237 rejected cases, 1600 claimants cancelled their asylum bid since the Unified Screening Mechanism (USM) was launched in March 2014.
Although the number of new arrivals is surging, rejection and withdrawal figures suggest that Hong Kong Government is waging a psychological war that underpins a “long established policy of not granting asylum” (Security Bureau, § 6).
The absurdity of seeking asylum in Hong Kong was a painful experience for Marku (not his real name). Without questioning his credibility, Immigration rejected his claim with the assessment that he could relocate or hide internally in his country.
Concealment in remote areas (including spider holes?) might indeed be an option for individuals fleeing persecution. However, in our experience, Immigration appears to unimaginatively and unconvincingly suggest “internal flight” and “internal relocation” as the only viable alternative when dismissing otherwise credible asylum applications.
“My lawyer said that I should go back to my country and live someplace else,” Marku reported with frustration. “He advised me not to appeal despite hearing that my country was at war and my problem is very big. He said, ‘Your immigration officer was right. He made the right decision to reject your claim.’” Marku was incredulous and had the impression that, “My lawyer just came to help Immigration to reject me!”
Marku continued, “The lawyer didn’t provide even one (COI) document that I saw. Everything I did myself. I didn’t hear him give me any advice, or suggest anything during the interviews. It was like he was not my lawyer. It was like he was one of the officers of Immigration. He did not care about me. He did not care about my case, about anything.”
States erect policy walls inside borders to discourage and deter refugees. These barriers are less sinister, yet arguably more harmful, than border fences. As Marku experienced, such impediments obstruct the course of asylum and the securing of protection, “I have proof. I have everything. I have death certificates (of family members), but they don’t care. I decided to go back because Hong Kong Government is not serious.”
Refugees bounce from interview to interview for years till 99.7% are either rejected or withdraw their claims in frustration. The trend is less indicative of abuse, than a challenge to the credibility of an ill-conceived and poorly implemented asylum system. On the flip side, in light of the “long established policy of not granting asylum”, the screen-to-reject process might be considered a resounding success.
Hong Kong’s culture of rejection hit Marku hard, “I am very disappointed. I am just wasting my time in Hong Kong for nothing. I have (many) family members who fled to (a neighbouring country) and were all recognized by the UNHCR because of my personal problems, not because of something that happened to them. I told Immigration and still they rejected my claim.”
Marku, who was allowed by Immigration to fly to a neighbouring African country, was utterly disillusioned, “All they want to do is to reject people. There is no justice in Immigration for asylum seekers and refugees. I stopped in Hong Kong for protection, because if I went home they would kill me. But now I know they don’t give protection. Now I know the USM is fake. Why should I stay? After I closed my case, Immigration wrote, ‘Your appeal and petition are dismissed on the ground that your contemplated risks are no longer in existence.’”
Is that intended to rub salt in the wound?