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)
Government propaganda appears to be formulated to malign refugees by tossing anyone who dares to seek asylum in the “illegal immigrant” dumpster. Is the depiction of refugees as illegal immigrants justifiable? Let’s start with the facts:
On 30 July 2015, Immigration refused entry to six foreigners who landed at the Hong Kong International Airport. Three of them were Indians arriving from Delhi, while the others were a mother and two children flying from Ethiopia. After being denied entry, all six applied for asylum by raising non-refoulement claims through the Unified Screening Mechanism (USM), thus blocking removal proceedings.
A government Press Release followed the next day, reported by several media outlets including:
- Six passengers refused permission to land lodge claims for non-refoulement
- (TVB) 六旅客被拒入境聲請免遣返疑事先策劃
The report appears to reveal what is an alarming problem. Attention should be drawn to these statements in particular: “while waiting for removal, the legal representative (of the Indians) lodged claims”, “for the three African passengers, a non-governmental organisation had already informed ImmD”, “the African female admitted that their travel documents did not bear their genuine identities”, “all of them lodged claims soon after they had been refused permission to land”, “ImmD will conduct further investigation on whether or not there is any person who intentionally arranged … to lodge claims”.
The media presented the above information as arguably indicative of abuse. Yet, Vision First claims the above actions and information are essential to due and fair process. It is a constitutional right of individuals to seek protection against refoulement. It is not a loophole in legislation.
Further, let’s consider:
- Hong Kong welcomed more than 5 million visitors a month in 2014. As one of the busiest tourist and transit hubs in the world, it is unremarkable that on average 20 asylum seekers sought government protection at control points every month last year. Considering international migration/refugee challenges, one might ask: Why so few?
- The legal representative for the Indians should not be singled out for assisting claimants “waiting for removal”, as if the asylum process were thus abused. The lawyer was simply doing his job advising clients who requested assistance in the process of seeking asylum. The claimants were smart to hire a lawyer who should be praised for resisting and (temporarily) succeeding against the state machinery that would otherwise have probably deported his clients.
- The press release fails to report that the African husband is a mandated UNHCR refugee attempting to reunite with a family he originally separated from when he fled abroad. Immigration knew this from interviews supported by documents, yet chose to depict the “African female” as a deceitful abuser in possession of fake passports. In fact it is legally acceptable for refugees to flee to safety with any documents that will achieve that objective.
- The press release fails to report that Immigration officers refused entry to the African mother and children (boy 6, girl 5) when they sought asylum earlier this year at the SkyPier at the Hong Kong International Airport. On that occasion, the mother submitted that her husband was a UNHCR refugee in Hong Kong and they would face danger if returned to Africa. It is disconcerting that her protection pleas were ignored and the family was removed without further investigation.
- The press release avoids stating that the NGO in question was the Refugee Union, perhaps to deflect attention from the valuable assistance the society offers refugees in need of advice and communication with government departments. It is reported that the husband of the African family sought the assistance of the Refugee Union that competently liaised with Immigration and secured the release of the mother and children in two days.
- No consideration is given to the basic legal principle that any asylum claim ought to be treated as genuine until the entire screening process is concluded. The press release instead seems to presume that the 3 Indians and 3 Africans were troublesome abusers of an otherwise fair asylum process. What are persecuted foreigners expected to do if raising claims at the airport is considered reprehensible?
Agenda item no. 4: Unified screening mechanism for non-refoulement claims
LC Paper No. CB(2)1832/14-15(03) - Paper provided by the Administration
LC Paper No. CB(2)1832/14-15(04) - Background brief prepared by the Legislative Council Secretariat
Discussion starts at the 15:39 time marker