Christy Choi writes for the South China Morning Post on 31 July 2014
Christian Action and Vision First agree to work together for asylum seekers after settlement
Two refugee organisations locked in a bitter dispute have reached an out-of-court settlement in a defamation case.
Long-established NGO Christian Action had reached a deal to end its action against relative newcomer Vision First so both could focus on “ongoing work to assist refugees,” Christian Action counsel Earl Deng said.
The settlement was reported to the High Court yesterday morning. Madam Justice Bebe Chu Pui-ying told the groups that there’s was “indeed a very sensible approach”, and urged them to focus on helping refugees.
The two groups had been embroiled in a war of words that had caused strife among asylum seekers and within the small community of NGOs that took up the refugees’ cause.
At issue were posts on Vision First’s website containing allegations of serious misconduct against Christian Action staff. Vision First and ally the Refugee Union painted the case as a David versus Goliath clash. Christian Action wanted an out-of-court deal, but there was little progress until 2am yesterday.
Both sides stressed that the terms of the agreement were confidential. But some posts critical of Christian Action could no longer be found on the Vision First website yesterday.
Cosmo Beatson, executive director of Vision First, said the two groups were “allies on the same side of the battle line against a failed and unconstitutional welfare system that oppresses and humiliates refugee clients we both seek to assist”.
“It’s been a big distraction for everyone involved and it’s great to put all this behind us,” he said.
Beatson said he would next week visit Christian Action’s centre for refugees in Chungking Mansions, Tsim Sha Tsui, and meet the centre’s new manger, Justin Murgai.
An estimated 6,000 asylum seekers live in Hong Kong, mostly from Africa and South Asia. Asylum seekers are not allowed to settle in Hong Kong as it has not signed the relevant UN convention. But it does have a legal obligation not to send back refugees who face torture or degrading treatment, under the Convention Against Torture.
Refugees whose claims are approved are referred to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for resettlement elsewhere.
Vision First is facing a separate defamation action from government contractor International Social Service Hong Kong.