The heading of the South China Morning Post article “Hong Kong’s bogus asylum claim industry exposed: The black-market labour racket and the middlemen making millions” paints a terribly misleading picture that the vast majority of asylum seekers in Hong Kong are primarily motivated to work and make money.
Indian economic migrants are a very small minority
In fact the story that follows mainly discusses a very recent trend of some Indian nationals seeking asylum in Hong Kong, via the assistance of middlemen, who were induced under false pretenses to travel here with promises of employment. This relatively minor sub-group of migrants do not represent the majority of asylum-seekers who have sought refuge in Hong Kong.
While it is true that asylum is sometimes packaged with travel arrangements in India, and in many other countries for that matter, this is hardly a new situation, but one known to experts for over a decade. So why is it today firmly in the crosshairs of government officials?
The Hong Kong Government again attempts to shift blame away from its own failings
Apparently the authorities are outraged by the blatant exploitation of shortcomings and delays in the USM system which consequently allow claimants to extend stays and work illegally. While work might be the main objective for a minority of claimants, the hard question is: Who is responsible for establishing an asylum process that twice in 20 years was deemed unlawful and today still presents shortcomings that are reasonably exploited? Should the captain blame the water for entering a leaky boat?
The Hong Kong courts have repeatedly caught out the Hong Kong Government for its intentionally designed illegal, or vastly incomplete, screening mechanisms. The Court of Final Appeal has been compelled to hold the Hong Kong Government accountable for its refusal to recognise asylum seekers’ fundamental rights to protection under the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, the ICCPR and under article 33 of the Refugee Convention. The Hong Kong Government took an adversarial approach to human rights that caused the majority of delays in the screening of thousands of refugees. One must not forget that the government itself has been recalcitrant. To date the Hong Kong Government has failed to apologise for its obstinate stance that has caused so many asylum seekers to suffer in limbo in Hong Kong, many for over a decade.
The actual reality of asylum seekers circumstances
Looking at the big picture, the actual data must be considered critically: 197 of 10,600 refugees arrested for working (1.86%) is hardly indicative of a crime wave, considering that 100% of asylum-seekers live below the poverty line without employment rights. It is no mystery that welfare is structured with a deterrence objective to discourage claimants from remaining here. In this context, it is doubtful that any refugee makes ends meet without raising funds somehow, as NGOs are certainly not bridging the gaps and have neither the capacity, nor mandate to do so.
Less than 200 arrests this year for working illegally strongly suggests something other than abuse is at play here. Perhaps law enforcement is slacking, or more likely the Security Bureau has greater priorities, which are not reflected in PR-driven announcement of joint operations that raid small restaurants, recycling yards, or flats under construction. On the one hand, a heavy immigration hand cannot fix the incandescent social-political problems caused by the failed asylum/welfare system. On the other, a heavy hand and strong PR have the effect of mobilizing public opinion against vulnerable asylum seekers. This is a shameful and irrational attempt to marginalise and demonise innocent and highly vulnerable men, women and children.
Local businesses are unable to convince residents to take up labour intensive jobs
Hong Kong suffers a severe labour shortage, affecting small businesses in particular, which generates a considerable demand for illegal workers. Jailing refugees who fill this labour vacuum might produce sensational news photos, but were the ban on refugee work stringently applied, grave consequences would be suffered by local employers.
Is demonizing refugees an expedient ploy to overshadow the fact that the Hong Kong Government does not hold the moral ground, as it formulated an asylum/welfare system that must be infringed to survive? Arrests only serve to push refugees further underground into the dark, unsanitary and dangerous workplaces where their visibility is reduced as much as their wages. If you stop to think about it, who are the demons?
Now a word in defense of Indian refugees. First, there is nothing newsworthy about the percentage they represent that is unchanged since June 2012, according to this press release. Second, Human Rights Watch reported that, “Members of India’s security forces continue to enjoy impunity for serious human rights violations.” Third, it is risible that consular authorities assure India is free of religious, sectarian or political persecution. You may also believe that China does not persecute human rights lawyers, as it recently assured the United Nations Committee on Torture.
Vision First reiterates that citizens from any country may seek asylum in Hong Kong and their claims must be approached on the premise that they are genuine, unless and until it is proven that they cannot be substantiated by the claimants. Meanwhile, economic needs are among the reasonable expectations of destitute refugees let down en masse by Hong Kong Government, despite assurances to the contrary.
I am an African refugee who has been stuck in Hong Kong for 10 years. I am saddened by the articles I read about crimes committed by refugees. I am sad for the reporters who write these reports without checking the background. What about welfare that pays half our living costs? What about jailing us for working without proper permits? Should we beg in the streets with our children?
Some refugees are helped by NGOs, churches and benefactors, but frankly most don’t get a single charitable cent. The opposite is happening in Europe and it should put pressure on Hong Kong Government. Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Norway, Sweden and the UK are welcoming and supporting more refugees than ever before. Even Switzerland that was considered unwelcoming, is issuing more protection visas this year.
First of all, refugees are also human beings. Whatever situation we are escaping – and I won’t judge others – we are not talking about some animals, but people like you. Today we need international help, tomorrow it could be you. Readers should remember that refugees are not dangerous per se, but governments put refugees in dangerous situations.
Besides, it is not only refugees who act badly, but also local people. The French were saying that more Frenchmen are gangsters than refugees. Don’t say that because one refugees is a criminal than all refugees are criminal. The world news network is focusing on refugees. People cannot pretend that nothing is happening. Now is a good time to join our voices to raise awareness.
It’s disappointing that Hong Kong repeats the tired and empty excuse: “We are a very small place, we cannot take refugees”. That has been a pretext for 20 years of doing next to nothing to protect refugees in a city that has a negative growth rate and has hardly seen its population grow. What difference would welcoming 10, 20 or 100 refugees a year make to a population of 7 million?
The fact is Hong Kong has accepted 37 refugees out of about 20,000 asylum seekers since 1992 – that is less than 2 a year! The government is showing that they have the money to give us food, but they don’t want to give us protection and freedom. They don’t want to free our mind. If you give a man food, but you are not giving him a future, you are not helping, but destroying him. Until when are you going to feed him?
In Hong Kong there are human rights organization that know how refugees are abused. They should be saying something about the injustice. They should challenge the government to receive refugees. Greece asked for help. Italy asked for help. They admit they cannot handle the crisis. Can’t Hong Kong admit that they have a problem and ask for help? The little boy died and the world cried, but how many refugees are dying in Hong Kong of maltreatment and nobody is saying anything?
What makes a man a man is not food. What makes a man feel the freedom of being a human being on Earth is to express himself in many ways. They say that refugees are “coming to take”, but that is the fearful reaction of bigots who don’t want to think deeply. Nobody is coming to take aid from anyone.
The truth is that refugees can make the economic cake bigger, so that everyone can have more. Germany realizes that many citizens are becoming old and soon will not be productive. They understand that welcoming young and hardworking refugees will grow the economy and then increase taxes to make the country stronger. They are planning smartly for the future.
Hong Kong thinks that they are preserving the jobs of locals. They do not understand that refugees will generate more business, trade and employment for everyone. Hong Kong says “We are already big”, but other countries want to grow and prosper, they do not stop and say we are big enough. Maybe in 20 years they will understand that HK citizens don’t want to have babies, they just want to enjoy.
This is exactly what is happening in Japan that is suffering an old-age crisis. Japan is giving visa to Africans to come to work. There are more elders there than workers and they need to welcome others to help. The Japanese don’t want menial jobs, they want nice jobs, so they are making robots and accepting others for manpower and growth.
The truth is that there is a cultural selfishness in Hong Kong that blocks it from welcoming others. If they wanted to help, they could. If they wanted to change policies, they could. If they wanted to sign the Refugee Convention, they could. If they want to give us proper welfare, they could. We were homeless before we protested and got rental assistance. We were hungry before we protested and got food rations. We protested a rotten system and got food coupons. We were living in slums before we protested and got deposits and agency fees paid. Were these problems impossible to foresee and solutions hard to provide?
Hong Kong needs to help vulnerable people without focusing on economics, skin colour or country of origin. We should help human beings on Earth, not just those offering obvious economic benefits. This ought to be elementary for people to understand. The only way for others to recognize that you are strong is demonstrating it through action.
If Hong Kong people feel that they are so rich and strong, there is no need to be afraid to give the right to work to asylum seeker. I think this will make them stronger in the future. We need to look further than the now. Refugees will not take your jobs. Refugees will expand the economy, create employment, make a stronger generation and bring diversity and resilience to Hong Kong
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″.
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.