Government response to VF queries

May 17th, 2012 | Advocacy | Comment

Panel on Security (Agenda) 8 May 2012
Meeting on Tuesday, 8 May 2012, at 2:30 pm
in Conference Room 1 of the Legislative Council Complex

Revised agenda as at 4 May 2012

I.Confirmation of minutes of previous meeting

(2:30 pm – 2:35 pm) LC Paper No.  CB(2)1868/11-12
(issued vide LC Paper No. CB(2)1869 /11-12 on 3 May 2012)
Minutes of meeting on 3 January 2012

II.Information paper issued since the last meeting

(2:35 pm – 2:40 pm) LC Paper No. CB(2)1804/11-12(02) (issued on 23 April 2012)
Response to the queries raised by Mr Cosmo BEATSON, Executive Director of Vision First, about the subsidy of the Government to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provided by the Administration

“Hence, there is no question of the Government subsidizing the UNHCR
in Hong Kong or allowing the latter to remit funds overseas”

W H Chow for Secretary for Security

BBC: Ivy League education free on the web

May 16th, 2012 | Advocacy, Media, VF updates, programs, events | Comment

Many school children shed sweat and tears to pursue the privilege of a top university education. But only a lucky few will make the grade and then they will have to fund it. The tech world however is full of visionaries intent on disrupting traditional establishments. BBC Click’s Sumi Das reports on a brand new project which is already causing ripples around the globe as it is making a top notch education available to anyone, anywhere and for free.

“I have waited many years to see something like this that would empower working people, poor people, and isolated ones, to learn at the top level from the best in a more accessible way.”

click to play video

Against a culture of suspicion

May 13th, 2012 | Advocacy | Comment

Well-intentioned refugee advocates on occasion employ restrictive categories to distinguish “refugees” from “economic migrants”, as if these two groups weren’t deeply linked. This labeling, made to benefit genuine versus bogus refugees, confuses already murky waters and jeopardizes both refugee and torture claims.

We note that some comments posted on the Hong Kong Refugee Information YouTube Channel are not shared by the refugee community. When watching some videos, refugees lament how bleak their future appears in the light of a mutually exclusive dichotomy that sorts genuine refugees from economic migrants. Their experiences, perspectives, motivations for travelling faraway in search of refuge, should not be simplistically framed within a purported (and futile) contest between two rival groups. Real world situations are more complex than plain labels that define refugees as champions of honesty and economic migrants as scheming abusers.

When reality is fairly appraised, a humanitarian spirit recognizes that any individual has the right to seek refuge for a combination of reason which may also include ECONOMIC DEPRIVATION. There are numerous cases where economic hardship is either inflicted or condoned by states unable/unwilling to prevent it for reasons in the Refuge Convention, namely, race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion. In other words, when oppressive persecution cripples the basic right to livelihood, one is inexorably forced to migrate to survive both physically and economically. Further, every refugee constantly weighs the economic implications of living abroad without resources, painfully aware his survival and his family’s well-being depend on the host country’s financial strength. (i.e. How much will it cost? How will I sustain myself? Will I find work? Can I send money home?) In ultimate analysis, people escape abroad to survive (primary reason) and, by definition, survival in a monetized world include economic decisions (secondary reason). That’s why nobody flees to a country in a worse economic condition than his own!

Moreover, due consideration must be given to the fact most refugees don’t have an academic knowledge of asylum or a procedural grasp of effective refuge application. Consequently, when asked by authorities why they fled abroad, most fail to distinguish economic deprivation from its systemic causes. Thus, on first investigation, they appear to seek economic benefits, but instead their hardship results from persecution according to convention reasons - the symptoms might be economic, but the illness is intolerable oppression. One of our members (incidentally a recognized refugee now) was unceremoniously shipped back to Addis Abeba after telling Immigration, “I come study English.” What he intended was, “I cannot speak English and need to learn your language to tell my story”, perhaps unaware of interpretation.

It is our opinion that refugee advocacy should not blame economic migrants for abusing the refugee system. Instead we ought to be mindful that “economic reasons” and “asylum reasons” are rarely mutually exclusive. Behind an individual’s suffering there is a complex current of social, political, racial, religious, cultural and economic adversity that propels one to seek protection, as well as a better life, abroad. A simple question like “Why aren’t there rich refugees?” underscores the reality that economics always play a part in asylum claims, as affluence is generally a trump card against persecution.

Accordingly, Vision First is against a CULTURE OF SUSPICION that is deep-rooted in Hong Kong and the rest of the world. We believe everyone has the right to seek asylum in another country and have her claim carefully and fairly evaluated. Vision First supports Tribunal 12 in its effort to hold governments accountable for the suffering caused by this culture of suspicion that continually violates the human rights of refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers.

click picture to play video

Accountability and transparency – audit 2011

Apr 15th, 2012 | Advocacy, Refugee Community | Comment

Compliance with accounting rules as a registered charity is not sufficient. It’s nothing but a basic prerequisite in a financial environment where audits are essential. The question really is: What does one do with Financial Statements? Vision First is a humanitarian agency grown from, and sustained by, community efforts. We wouldn’t exist without the support of individuals who believe we perform essential duties and are a force for change. Our mission is to relieve refugee hardship by harnessing the generosity and resourcefulness of like-minded citizens. We take the view that ACCOUNTABILITY is an obligation to explain our activities to stakeholders and TRANSPARENCY is an obligation to publish independent, verified statements. Although small by funding and staff, our impact is amplified by a unique connection with those we serve and those who evaluate our performance – our members.

To gauge best practices independent reports are essential and audit scrutiny is best. This is the reason Vision First leads by example in the hope of inspiring change. We are pleased to publish our audit and pledges to do so every year. The document below shows that “Donation Income” increased from 395,444 to 924,697 HKD while “Subsidies to Asylum-Seekers and Refugees” grew from 156,552 to 795,452 HKD spent directly on programs. Our team worked a whole year with operating costs of only 27,522 HKD because zero went to administration fees, rental or salaries. How did we do it? Our operating model is unique. We believe in two fundamental principles that unleash creative thinking while optimizing available resources:

a)     foster community generosity by sharing the “joy of giving”;

b)     it’s a losing battle to “pay one’s way” in this expensive city.

Vision First believes it’s vital for each NGO in our community to unequivocally manifest its values by responding to the legitimate information needs of its stakeholders. It is important that clients, as well as donors, can easily review financials and programs, fundraising and expenses, rents and salaries. This allows the public to verify that donations are used prudently for stated objectives, that the organization is properly managed and - most importantly - that operational priorities match mission statements. Or, in other words, “that we practice what we preach.” Nothing short of this will ensure an NGO attracts new funds, resources and talent for growth in the best interest of society and its beneficiaries.

Asylum: a policy primer

Apr 4th, 2012 | Advocacy | Comment

Dr Matthew Gibney, of the University of Oxford, examines key questions underlying asylum polices, focusing on the challenge of protecting human rights while ensuring that immigration controls are not undermined. The tension is growing in Hong Kong between Immigration and civil society as hundreds of failed CAT claimants are rounded up, detained and served with removal/deportation orders. HK Government closely examines and evaluates UK policy and so should we, considering what lies ahead when Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre (capacity: 400) overfills with former asylum-seekers too scared to be deported home. Let’s find the answers to these questions:
- who is a refugee, asylum seeker or has ‘undetermined status’?
- is asylum a trump card over normal immigration controls?
- what policies do states use to deter and prevent asylum?
- which claimants have strong protection needs (Duty Lawyer Service)?
- what is the ‘asylum gap’ and ‘informal asylum’ (now growing in HK)?
- why have Removal Orders become a strong control tool?
- does the government perspective clash with civil society’s view?


Successfully yoga

Apr 1st, 2012 | Personal Experiences | Comment

Hello, my name is Danica and I would like to share this experience with you. Ten days ago I didn’t even know what Vision First was. Honestly, I didn’t even really understand what a refugee was, or that there are refugees living in Hong Kong. My sister Belinda is a volunteer at Vision First and that’s how I was introduced to this kind-hearted organization and this heart-breaking social issue. Last week, I just followed Belinda to the Center. Then I began to learn. I met some of Vision First’s members working together to keep the Center and Shelter in order. I met one man, Simon, who told me his story and educated me as to just how terrible some people’s lives can be. I had never imagined that the experiences of others could be so rough. I am Taiwanese, I live a safe, protected life. Simon helped me see how lucky I am. After meeting these kind, hard-working, honest people, I hope to help them in any way I can, even just by attending fundraising events to take photos. This way I am also helping in my small way to inform the public. Another way to help is to become friends with refugees. You may ask, who is Simon?

Simon is a computer engineer; he knows at least four languages. He is smart, patient, humorous and very good-natured. I have met with Simon many times in the past few days. Even when he is sick, he is still able to help fix my computer. I can’t believe that he is a refugee. I know he has suffered torture and is still in pain. The world is an unfair place for Simon and just because he was born into a situation he could not control. I am lucky to have been born in Taiwan, a peaceful place with opportunity and love.

Last Sunday I joined a fundraising event at Pure Yoga. Pure Yoga is friends with Vision First. The Pure instructors and members raised $27,110 just for 1 hour of fun yoga. This money will go directly to helping the lives of unlucky people trying to survive in Hong Kong. Money is important for Vision First, but, for me as I learn about refugees in person, I do believe that making friends is important, too. So, as an amateur photographer and refugee friend, I encourage you all to support Vision First. I encourage everyone in Hong Kong to contribute to Vision First. Their staff volunteers really serve the vulnerable people directly with no wasted money. Donate clothing, food, Octopus cards, anything. Volunteer your time to coordinate a program for refugee members, or hold a fundraising event with your friends - Thank you!

Fundraising can be anything you love - like yoga
Fundraising can be anything you love - like yoga



Maggie’s testimonial

Mar 11th, 2012 | Advocacy | Comment

Dear Parents -

Yesterday I found out hundreds of refugees live a squalid life in Hong Kong. I am a parent of two students at West Island School, where we went to celebrated Fair Day. In the gymnasium was a table that attracted considerable attention thanks to the charisma of a friendly African towering above everyone. I was dragged over there by my daughter’s desire for the “Sharkies” candy he offered. Against the wall two posters projected the distinctive logo of a refugee charity: VISION FIRST. One poster read: “Who are refugees? Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries freedom from persecution – article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. I was intrigued and needed to know more.

The guys at Vision First are doing a terrific job! They work for free. They operate from a donated office and shelter. They guarantee 100% of funds support directly the most vulnerable refugees. And, most importantly, they have a contagious passion to serve unparalleled in the community. I write to introduce this organization that serves enthusiastically where even the government fails. It is inspiring to discover that a group of friends developed this small charity into a force of change.  I write to recommend Vision First for your support as they strike me as being both highly professional and thoughtfully compassionate. I had the chance to talk to refugees who spoke of it as their extended family – as people they depend upon and as friends they trust.

Dear Friends, I learnt that refugees are not allowed to work. Further, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) cut support this year and shifted their welfare to the government, that only supports refugees with 1200 HK$ rent and emergency rations. The photos I saw said it all. Vision First’s beneficiaries are condemned to a miserable life, totally unacceptable amid the city’s prosperity. They beg for every necessity. They scavenge for food. They live in horrendous conditions at the bottom of society. Without the commendable effort of Vision First, their plight would not have reached my attention. What refugees urgently need are the items we discard: used clothes, used sneakers, pots and pans, bed sheets and books, toys and diapers. When your family grows out of these or when you buy new ones, please remember that nobody needs them more desperately. Recently my donations were turned down by the Salvation Army that asked for new stuff. Instead Vision First will come to your home and gladly collected anything you can spare. It doesn’t get any easier to make a positive impact in refugees’ lives! Please spread the word among your friends and send them this flyer: Vision First flyer

Thank you,


West Island School "Fair Day"
West Island School "Fair Day"

Hiking the Dragon’s Back

Mar 7th, 2012 | Personal Experiences | Comment

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