Abraham Lincoln is attributed the saying, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
According to many refugees who watched a live news-feed at Vision First office, this maxim might apply to the Hong Kong’s 2017 electoral reform. Few are in any doubt about the government’s flagging popularity and the escalating challenges it is likely to face after a pro-establishment walk-out bungled the historical vote: 28 No – 8 Yes.
On offer was pseudo universal suffrage for the 2017 Chief Executive election, when eligible voters were expected to cast ballots for pre-approved candidates.
An African refugee observed, “It’s like in my country. Without rigging the election, the president would never win. It is fake universal suffrage! It is meaningless because voters cannot vote for their own choice, but only vote for whoever the Government will select. Hong Kong people are not stupid! They know it is a fake system promoted to legitimize whoever is put in power.”
A Pakistani refugee exclaimed, “Before, people accepted the governor sent from London, and now, they accept the Chief Executive approved by Beijing. But don’t tell them to vote for him, or to love him. The Government offered fake elections and the people said, ‘No thank you! You choose the leader, not us. So what is the meaning of everyone going out to vote for him?’”
As he assembled a sign for the World Refugee Day demonstration, another refugee remarked, “Hong Kong likes to have fake systems. Like the asylum screening (USM). There are lawyers, officers and appeal judges doing their important work, but the process is fake. Refugees know they cannot win their claims. Just like HK voters know they cannot win the election. You cannot fool all the people all the time!”
Rooted in painfully lived experience, these observation strike a chord. On paper, the Unified Screening Mechanism appears to offer protection, but how often does it grant it? Refugees complete forms, submit documents and attend interviews hoping for positive results. And then they wait, and wait and wait. The government arm is extended, but unreachable. The invisible hand holds back the promises made.
The refugee recognition rate speaks for itself. Since the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) was extended to Hong Kong in 1992, more than 20,000 asylum seekers lodged claims with the Immigration Department, but only 28 were ever accepted, including several children born in Hong Kong.
That’s a 0.14% acceptance rate, a far cry from the 20-50% in develop countries, see Australia for example.
Can refugees be blamed for lamenting that the screening process lacks credibility? Claimants give less weight to the Immigration Ordinance, 480 duty lawyers and appeal judges, than to protection results, known as ‘substantiated claims’.
For the men and women who fear being repatriated into harm’s way, the complex and sophisticated screening mechanism is judged by its outcome – does it protect? Until results prove otherwise, it is hard to disagree that the Unified Screening Mechanism appears to be less than genuine.
My name is Irfan. I came to Hong Kong from (South Asia) in February 2006 to save my life. Soon it will be 10 years and after many, many interviews the Immigration Department has never made a decision on my case: not accepted and not rejected. Why it takes so long? Is it the right way to treat refugees?
My duty lawyer said, “Your case is different. You have a very special case. Your case is genuine.” But I respectfully say, there are hundreds of refugees in Hong Kong who have real cases. Why so few win? Our life and our family’s life are wasted because we don’t have protection, we don’t have work and we don’t have normal life.
In 2007 and 2008 I had five or six interviews at Immigration office in Central. Some were from morning till night. The officers told me to wait 3 to 9 months for the decision – but nothing happened. My Torture claim was not decided and in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 nobody contacted me. I waited long time – but nobody called me.
When my USM interview started in 2014, I asked, “What was the decision from 2008?” But Immigration did not reply. They said, “Your case is strong and you must give interview one more time”. Is it fair that Immigration delay the decision on my case for 10 years without making a decision?
My lawyer said that Immigration cannot refuse my case, but why it takes so long? I came to Hong Kong because I have a problem. I like to save my life. I came when I was 21 and now I am 31 and nothing changed for me here. What do I have to do for my future? They don’t allow me to work and I am scared of breaking the law. Why Hong Kong Government treat refugees like this?
One day, my Immigration officer said, “You have waited a very long time. Sorry for this!” I answered, “The time I wasted will never come back. You consider how I spend my life, how I eat, how I live and how I suffer! If you (compensate me) for what I have lost, maybe I accept your sorry! I waited too long and I need my time back. But you cannot do that. Immigration just knows how to waste refugees’ time. I came to Hong Kong in February 2006 and now my hands are empty!”
I respectfully say to the Government: just give me the HK nationality, or let me work. If I do crime, you tell police that I am trouble. I have a baby. I am very stressed about my life. I want to do suicide, but I have to think about my family. If it is not allowed to give nationality, then allow me to do work. This is not criminal. My family is suffering. I don’t have money to help them. My daughter needs to go to school. I don’t have money. My daughter need shoes. I don’t have money. My wife needs clothes. I don’t have money. My ISS-HK case officer always says “You ask your friends”.
I came here to get a new life, but Hong Kong slowly poisons and kills me. Every moment, every minute I am suffering for what my wife and my daughter need. Immigration never give me response. The welfare is not enough. I always say this, but nobody listens to me. I cannot find mattress and bed for sleeping. I asked my ISS-HK case officer to help. She said “I will call you!” Almost going to be 6 months and she didn’t call me.
Hong Kong Government cannot protect or support me. Hong Kong Immigration make me slowly die, because they don’t give me freedom. I came here because I have a problem. But they don’t respect me, so I am not free. They tell me to sit – I must sit. They tell me to stand – I must stand. They say they help me, but how they help me? They just use the law to insult me. I say to the Government: Please give me permission to do work, so I can enjoy simple life with my family.