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)
“I didn’t plan to come to Hong Kong,” recalls an African refugee. “An agent brought me here in 2004 on a passport I never saw. We were scheduled to take a flight to the States, when he said it would be delayed and we should stay overnight. At the McDonald’s near Star Ferry, I got into a misunderstanding with him and refused to do as he wanted me. He asked me to hold his leather jacket. He said he had to make a phone call … I never saw him again. Two days later I turned 15.”
Now Tommy (not his real name) is 26 years old, and is an exceptional refugee who continues to excel against overwhelming odds in a hostile asylum sphere that reduces to depression more experienced and wiser individuals. The young man credits his success in overcoming unending difficulties to a determination to turn every challenge around, “I learnt to depend on myself to solve my problems as this is my life!”
It is understandably hard for him to speak about his past. “My father passed away before I was born and my mother when I was 5. I was raised by my grandmother who died when I was 8. Then I was captured by the rebels. I was a child soldier for 5 horrible years. It was hell … I am still doing counseling and taking medications. When the agent abandoned me I was suicidal. God did not let it happen. I was helped by a US missionary who took me to the UNHCR. He saved my life.”
After a few days, Tommy was admitted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital where he spent ten trying days in the psychiatric unit. Upon discharge he was sent to a shelter where he experienced the failures of an underdeveloped welfare system for refugees in 2004. Eventually he was taken in by a church which still supports him. Tommy took education very seriously; he graduated from high school and went on to obtain a degree in business management.
“I couldn’t have done it without my wife, church and dad. He’s was my guardian, but I call him dad as I feel a father-son connection with him,” Tommy explains. “I met my wife at the church. She visited me in detention every week when I was arrested two weeks before turning 18. Immigration has given me a hard time ever since. I was ordered ‘Sign here. Don’t waste my time’ and nobody told me what documents they were. They refused to read back the statement before I signed them. Then my wife submitted my birth certificate and identity card. We got married in 2012, but my dependent visa was refused. Ironically my asylum claim remains undecided since 2004. Immigration doesn’t want me to have a normal life.”
Tommy obtained an African passport through the intervention of a maternal uncle who provided the statements necessary to confirm family ties prior to his abduction by the rebel group. The Beijing console interviewed him in Hong Kong, then a passport was issued without requiring travel to his homeland. “Immigration was not happy that I applied for a passport” Tommy said.
“This doesn’t make sense,” Tommy laments. “It is total injustice. I don’t know what applicants Immigration wants for dependent visas. I am not going to steal a local job, if that is what they are afraid of. I want to continue my studies overseas. I have two MBA offers, one from the UK and the other from Australia, and an MPA (Master in Public Administration) from the States. The church friends offered to pay for tuition, but I need a visa to prove that I am resident in Hong Kong.”
Frustration is palpable. “Immigration is trying to find faults in my application. First they tried to find faults in my wife’s documents, but they couldn’t. Now they say that I entered illegally as I came with an agent with a different passport. I had no idea what was submitted. I was a child. When the US consulate called Immigration, they were told, ‘This person does not exist in our system’. The consular staff then asked if my marriage certificate was fake as it was issued by Immigration. The line went dead when he asked for the officer’s name.”
More than three years after his marriage, the Legal Aid Department accepted Tommy’s application to judicially review Immigration’s refusal of his dependent visa. His lawyer is confident that the bureaucracy of rejection will crumble when the writ is filed at the High Court, because the legal grounds to condemn Tommy to a lifetime of welfare and marginalization may be challenged. It is regrettable that compassion is rarely shown to refugees who try their level best to integrate into society.