For decades Hong Kong Government’s particularly the Security Bureau and the Immigration Department classified asylum seekers as ‘illegal immigrants’. Before I proceed further into the failed asylum system, let’s first go back to asking ourselves a question. Are asylum seekers really illegal immigrants? Let’s consider the following.
Under international law, it is not illegal to seek asylum. Article 14(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that ‘everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’. Here I should disclose that I availed myself of this life-saving right 10 years ago when I fled to Hong Kong. By the way, I am a refugee and I have been waiting for a decision on my claim since 2006, which is disappointing to say the least.
For years the Hong Kong Immigration Department has classified and prosecuting asylum seekers who entered illegally, or overstayed visas. This includes vilifying as criminal asylum seekers who sometimes have no choice but to use fake documents to flee to safety. It is a pity for Hong Kong – dubiously dubbed Asia’s World City – to punish asylum seekers who entered with non-genuine documents.
I asked myself, are the people working at Immigration capable of their duties, or are they following orders without common sense? One doesn’t have to be a genius to know that, people running away from life-threatening situations are allowed to travel on any form of identity they can grab in the urgency of flight. Are asylum seekers illegal, or is it politically expedient to brand us so?
Broadly speaking ‘Illegal Immigrants’ are hardship travelers who enter a country without meeting legal requirements, for example, without a valid visa or justification. But the similarity with asylum seekers ends here, because the former plan to return to their homeland in the future, while the latter went into exile to avoid physical harm and possibly death. Not the same, right?
As long as Hong Kong supports the “UN Convention Against Torture”, the Government is bound by duties not to return to risk states persons who claim to face torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Therefore, I urge the Hong Kong Government to thoroughly look into the decision makers whom instruct immigration officers to break international laws to favor the interest and agenda of the leading class.
We are asylum seekers, not fool. We are not illiterate whereby the government and Immigration can insult or play with our intelligence. It is ridiculous how press releases and certain media reports vilify refugees as a collective of illegal immigrants! They should have done their homework better, before choosing such offensive and unjustified words.
It is time for the media to stop falling for propaganda. It could be argued that reporters who call refugees ‘illegal immigrants’ are in breach of journalistic ethics for failing in research and due diligence. I wonder if the companies they work for could be sued.
My message to the Hong Kong Government and Immigration is that, you need to wake up and grasp the concept that: There is no such thing as a bogus or illegal asylum seeker. Anyone in the world is entitled to seek protection in another country and have his or her claim assessed. The fairness and credibility of the process is of course entirely a different matter.
As a final note, asylum seekers cannot be maligned or prosecuted for entering a country without authorization, or the right paperwork in the moment of escape from danger. That would be akin to expecting that people to put on their Sunday clothes before escaping from a building on fire!
(Written by a refugee in Hong Kong since 2006)
The police arrived to mediate the stand-off in what has regrettably become an all too frequent scene at the headquarters of the Social Welfare Department, the department entrusted with the physical wellbeing of about 10,000 refugees in the city. After listening to complaints, a community relations officer called out, “How many people are homeless?”
What happened next was symptomatic of the sickness that pervades our society – unnoticed and unassisted the poor agonize among the affluent. In the overcrowded and guarded lobby of the SWD, 20 unintimidated men and women raised a hand. “Homeless people are a crime risk as they might commit offenses out of desperation,” a concerned police officer whispered.
Nevertheless, this warning appears to be largely ignored in the offices of the Security Bureau, the mastermind behind refugee policies in Hong Kong. This semi-autonomous global city follows a precept that is plainly depicted in its distrust towards the poor that frequently makes the news.
Two visitors recently arrived in Hong Kong. One was the business magnate Jack Ma, the richest man in China and founder of the fabled e-commerce company Alibaba. The other was the less prominent Jagadeep, who claims to be a victim of the “corruption that is eating away at India like a termite and is coming from the top”, as Indian Premier Modi lamented. Two visitors with two experiences worlds apart.
It was reported in the press that Jack Ma purchased a fabulous home on Hong Kong’s Peak for an eye-watering HK$1.5 Billion – the second most expensive property purchase in the history of the city. Government rules and regulations facilitate the entry into Hong Kong for the wealthy, who are shamelessly feted and encouraged to spend, purchase and invest to their heart’s content.
Jagadeep’s experience was less wonderful and included several weeks of homelessness. He was granted a one week visa which he was obliged to overstay to seek asylum, thus committing his first offense. He was then detained for a month and pressured to depart by the Immigration that is struggling with 10,059 asylum seekers shamefully homogenized into a melting pot of distrust, vilification and rejection.
It is a tale of two cities. Jack Ma surely deserves to enjoy the fruits of his success from the balcony of his new mansion overlooking Victoria Harbour. Part of his purchasing price was HK$12,750,000 in stamp duty paid into government coffers to fund policies that include the Social Welfare Department’s “Provision of Assistance-in-kind for Asylum Seekers and Torture Claimants”.
Like an anxious billionaire terrified of becoming poor in 20 years, Hong Kong Government is obsessed with hoarding HK$734 Billion in fiscal reserves and abstaining from alleviating poverty among those who today don’t have food and shelter. Shoulder to shoulder with 1.3 million impoverished Hongkongers, stand Jagadeep and 10,000 refugees who “we will continue to ensure do not fall destitute whilst in Hong Kong,” claims misleadingly the Security Bureau.
One of a hundred refugees who protested on 17 August 2015 at the SWD head-office begs to disagree, “The government pretends not to see our suffering. But they know our needs and our pain. They created this system. They know $1500 is not enough for rent in this expensive city. They know $1200 is not enough to eat for a month. They use (policies) to oppress refugees.”
A Refugee Union leader, who claims his basic needs are not met, exclaimed, “The government says we are not allowed to work. They say they give us enough rent and enough food, but they are lying. They delay (decisions on) our claims for 10 years and keep us here. We are dying. Hungry people are angry people. You can go ahead and lock all of us in jail. What difference does it make?”
More angry voices would not be suppressed: “You see our children? We are in starvation. You make us suffer”, “Hong Kong pretends to be an international city, but this is a ghost city”, “They just pay for a system that abuses and rejects refugees”, “They know what is wrong, they know what is right, but they are not thinking about us”, “You can drink our blood, but drink it small and don’t kill us!”
“We will fight for our rights until there is change” promised an empowered Refugee Union member. But Vision First has serious reservations this is achievable in the near future. It is heartbreakingly obvious that Hong Kong Government turns a blind eye to the destitute, resident and otherwise, while crushing refugees behind bureaucratic lies supported by preposterous assurance that nobody will fall destitute while seeking asylum in the city that Jack Ma loves.
Security Bureau replied to the Legislative Council Secretariat concerning 500 complaints letters lodged by members of the Refugee Union on the inadequacy of welfare support.
“Foreigners who smuggled themselves into Hong Kong, and visitors who overstayed their limit of stay allowed by the Immigration Department (ImmD) or who were refused entry by the ImmD upon arrival at Hong Kong (collectively “illegal immigrants”) are subject to be removed from Hong Kong in accordance with the Immigration Ordinance (Cap. 115). To safeguard immigration control and for public interest, they should be removed as soon as practicable.”
“Some non-refoulement claimants may not be able to meet their basic needs when their claim is being assessed. Since 2006, on humanitarian grounds, the Government has been offering in-kind assistance to these claimants to prevent them from becoming destitute (the assistance programme). Coverage of such assistance includes temporary accommodation, basic utilities allowance, food, clothing, basic necessities, appropriate transport allowance and counseling activities … The Government has enhanced the service package … since February 2014:
- Accommodation: the rent allowance grid per adult claimants has been increased to $1,500;
- Food: the budget for food for each claimant has been increased to $1,200 a month;
- Utilities: the allowance per claimant has been increased to $300 per month;
- Transport allowance: the allowance per claimant has been increased from $200 t0 $420 per month.”
“We will carefully consider all the views received, including the concerns expressed in the 291 + 209 cases enclosed in your letter, with a view to ensuring that the non-refoulement claims are screened in a fair and expeditious manner and deterring illegal immigrants and abuses to our current system. Meanwhile, we will continue to ensure claimants do not fall destitute whilst in Hong Kong.” (emphasis added)
“I will grant the applicant bail for the reason that I have given but I hope that the relevant authorities will address the problem that has been briefly described by me in very general terms. There are no doubt genuine cases for convention claims deserving of due process and consideration by the relevant authorities but it seems more needs to be done to weed out promptly the unmeritorious and unworthy claims. As I have previously indicated this is becoming a serious problem for the courts and the legal system in general, as well as for the community, and there is the added risk that the system in place is being abused not only by unmeritorious claimants but possibly by claimants with a more sinister purpose in mind.”
Hon. Judge Zervos granted the applicant bail as he was held in remand for more than double the time he would ever have been sentenced after trial.
Also Judge Zervos has made spectacular speculations as to why people overstay in Hong Kong and raise non-refoulement claims only later on.
This is a clear example of a very experienced lawyer and new judge from the DOJ who appears to have little first hand experience acting for a refugee. There seems to be scant consideration about the motivations and fears of asylum seekers after arriving in Hong Kong, where they know the acceptance rate is effectively zero percent.