VISION FIRST FAQ
A refugee is someone who has been forced to leave their home country due to persecution, war or violence. Sometimes they are alone. Sometimes they have escaped with family members. A refugee is an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation.
A refugee’s basic human rights are under threat because of their race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion. If they remain in their home country, they may face unfair imprisonment, torture or death.
Nobody chooses to become a refugee. Most people seeking sanctuary abroad would go home if it was safe.
An asylum seeker is an individual who seeks protection but whose claims for official refugee status have not yet been assessed. This assessment is often delayed due to a lack of official documentation supporting the asylum seeker’s claim.
Provisions are made under both Hong Kong and international law for an individual to seek asylum even without a passport, visa or other official personal documents as stated in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Asylum seekers are individuals who are seeking protection but whose claims for official refugee status have not yet been assessed. This is often due to a lack of official documentation supporting the asylum seeker’s claim. Provisions are made under both Hong Kong and international law for individuals to seek asylum even without passports, visas or other official personal documents as stated in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Asylum seekers should not be confused with economic migrants. An economic migrant normally leaves a country voluntarily to seek a better life. Should he or she decide to return home, they would continue to receive the protection of his or her government. Refugees flee because of the threat of persecution and cannot return safely to their homes.
“Refugees are not illegal immigrants, they are not fortune hunters. They are protected people who have passed through the gate of official scrutiny. These people are for all intents and purposes – through no fault of their own – stranded in Hong Kong and have nowhere else to go. Allowing this (suffering) to happen amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment on the part of the Hong Kong government, in contravention of the Convention Against Torture.” Robert Whitehead
An economic migrant typically leaves a country voluntarily to seek a better life. Economic migrants who return to their home country will continue to receive the protection of their government.
Asylum seekers and refugees cannot return to their home countries because of the threat of violence or persecution.
It is important not to automatically presume an asylum seeker or refugee is an economic migrant. In fact very few are.
There are refugees in virtually every country. Daily we hear news reports about the plight of refugees around the world. Governments constantly debate their approach to refugees.
Hong Kong has long provided sanctuary to refugees. In 1278 the young Emperor Duānzōng(端宗) found refuge here from Mongol invaders. Many ordinary Hong Kong people have refugees in the family.
Refugees are ordinary people who come to Hong Kong out of desperation. They have been forced to abandon family, friends, work, and property to escape to safety. Many are driven here after suffering abuse, torture, rape, the murder of family and friends and other atrocities.
By chance or circumstance their escape route has led to Hong Kong. Most had little choice.
Yes. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries freedom from persecution“.
We are lucky that through an accident of birth we live in a place free from war, suppression and violence. We have a moral right to protect those who are less fortunate.
Hong Kong prides itself on being a fair and caring society that strives to provide equal opportunities and protect those who cannot take care of themselves.
But despite its huge wealth, Hong Kong’s safety net for the underprivileged and vulnerable has often been criticised as being too narrow. The plight of refugees stranded in the city is a clear example of this.
Like all underprivileged groups, refugees should have adequate support and the ability to live with dignity while awaiting determination of their claims.
You can help refugees by understanding why they have sought refuge in our city.
You can help by being more considerate and compassionate about their plight.
You can also support refugees by donating money, goods, time and skills, or by becoming involved in refugee activism and events.
Many people in Hong Kong perceive refugees as illiterate peasants because they seem poor. Many are penniless because they had to leave their home countries abruptly in an emergency with no chance to bring assets or cash.
In fact refugees are often educated middle-class people with skills, knowledge and experience valuable to a cosmopolitan city like Hong Kong.
Unfortunately refugees are prevented by law from working here. However many contribute to Hong Kong through unpaid volunteer and charity work.
Refugees don’t flee their home countries out of choice. They seldom choose their destination. They are in trouble and fear for their lives or their freedom.
Yes Hong Kong has problems, but we also have a well-deserved reputation for hospitality, charity and common decency.
People who selflessly extend a hand to a stranger often emerge better off from the encounter. We should care about refugees because they are people in need who live among us.
Many people in Hong Kong think that everyone in the world wants to live here and make money here. In fact Hong Kong is relatively unknown and far less attractive than, say, Canada.
Asylum seekers may keep seeking refuge in Hong Kong, but there is no reason to believe that there will be floods of people with the resources and motivation to come here through a back door.
The best way for Hong Kong to deal with asylum seekers is to adopt a Refugee Status Determination system that processes asylum claims fairly and expeditiously.
Refugee Status Determination protects those in genuine need. Claimants without merit can be returned to their countries of origin without delay to spread the message that Hong Kong has no welcome for opportunists trying to game the system.
It is important to recognize that any response must protect those in genuine need – there must be not be an automatic presumption that every asylum claimant is just an economic migrant.
Vision First is an independent, Hong Kong-based non-governmental and non-profit organization that provides advocacy, activism and advice for refugees seeking protection in Hong Kong.
We campaign for the rights of refugees, advocating for their fair treatment.
We strive for the day when refugees seeking sanctuary from persecution can live in safety and with dignity in our city.
We maintain that a refugee is any person who seeks temporary refuge in Hong Kong.
We make no legal distinction between the many labels that are often applied in Hong Kong to divide and confound refugees among “refugee”, “protection claimant”, “torture claimants” and “asylum-seeker”.
Our definition of refugee encompasses anyone who has been seeking or has sought refuge in Hong Kong, or is in a refugee-like situation in the city.
Vision First is a proponent of the view that every asylum claim (be it cruelty, refugee or torture) must be approached on the premise that it is genuine unless and until it is proven that it cannot be substantiated by the claimant.
This means that a claimant must be afforded every opportunity to substantiate his claim and have recourse to proper legal remedies through the courts in the event of a rejection by the Administration.
No adverse inferences must be drawn against an asylum seeker until such remedies have been finally exhausted.
In the interim, this principle maintains that asylum seekers should benefit from the rights and privileges enjoyed by all citizens – as economic expectations are hardly incompatible with seeking asylum.
The lack of a comprehensive asylum system has resulted in a mechanism of migration control that works just fine for the government. Refugees work in the informal economy propelling several economic sectors that are pillar to the development of Hong Kong into a global city.
The illegalization of refugees ensures they will never become citizens, while their management is made easy by the criminalization of their labour, which enables to easily strengthen or relax removals in view of arrivals and local economic conditions.
(Read blog for details)
We base our intervention on the realization that refugees are people whose rights are often grossly violated from the moment they decide to depart their homeland. Having reached Hong Kong they are unjustifiably prohibited to work to generate an income to support themselves. This forces dependency and vulnerability, while encouraging risky decisions that may cause their criminalization, reinforcing stereotyping and thereby further restrictive policies and politics.
We operate on the assumption that how a society treats less fortunate populations is a reflection of its values and overall health.
Vision First members are refugees who have been introduced to Vision First as individuals or families in need of basic support.
Vision First members come from countries across South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe.
As of November 2014 there were about 10,000 refugees registered with the Hong Kong Immigration Department.