SCMP: Time to sign the UN Refugee Convention

Post Date: Mar 3rd, 2012 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

Hong Kong prides itself on being a fair and caring society. We strive to provide equal opportunities for all and offer protection to those who cannot take care of themselves. But our safety net for the underprivileged and vulnerable has often been criticised as being too narrow, and the plight of refugees stranded in the city is a clear example.The government has yet to sign the 1951 United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees. But that does not stop foreign nationals in troubled regions from coming to the city to seek a better life. Yet the screening process is often slow and prone to abuse. The general ban on refugees working while waiting for overseas settlement adds to their misery.This year the situation has been made worse by substantial cuts in material support from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The UNHCR cites extra funding demands from a wide range of natural disasters and fierce conflicts last year, including flooding in Pakistan, a civil war in Ivory Coast and violent regime change resulting from the “Arab Spring”. The refugee agency’s Hong Kong Office says it is no longer in a position to continue providing adequate material assistance to recognised refugees in the city, numbering around 180.

Although the government has sought to fill the gap and extended its humanitarian assistance programme to the refugees, it is understandable that refugee groups find the cuts unacceptable. There is a genuine concern that refugees may turn to crime if they are struggling to make ends meet. It is in the public interest that refugees, like other underprivileged groups, are given adequate support and are able to live with dignity while they wait for settlement elsewhere.

Hong Kong needs better strategies to make it a truly fair and just society. The government can play a bigger role by signing the convention on refugees. Giving them the right to work in the meantime is also an option worth exploring.


“Seeking physical security from persecution as well as
economic opportunities in a country of destination can
hardly be regarded as incompatible objectives for
people forced to leave their country of origin” - Thielemann




  1. _jimT_

    A refugee since 2009 came in today and said his landlord told him UNHCR has not paid his rent. The water is switched off. Landlord warned then turned it off. Landlord has asked him to move. Who is responsible? Who must help him?

  2. NGOaid

    I am not sure myself what has happened. All the refugees approved by UNHCR Hong Kong are now having difficulties with their new ISS case officers, approving payments to long time clients of mine. There is a lot of confusion and some very angry refugees who feel betrayed by UNHCR. What is going on?

  3. The UN is a complete fraud. They serve their interest and refuse care to refugees who suffer from bad policies and mismanagement. I know refugee families who are losing their rooms after coming short on rent and utility payments. It’s appalling and unacceptable in Hong Kong “Asia’s World City”

  4. Black Jack

    The UNHCR Hong Kong is calling meetings. They are discussing recent events and trying to learn the lessons they have been taught by the movement Vision First started. Refugees are feeling bolder. They know they have rights and the community is supporting them. Hopefully UNHCR will to stop humiliating and denigrating their clients. I never thought I would see this day. Thank you VF for making it happen!

  5. Thomson32

    Yr article has drawn the future of UN in question. The pride of Hong Kong is at stake. It is time the government did the right thing in handling refugees. It’s as simple as that. These international bodies do not have the best interest of local countries in mind.

  6. Captain Schettino

    Thank you Vision First for continuing the debate. I think signing the Refugee Convention doesn’t have much meaning, if HKSAR doesn’t want to recognize refugees anyway. What i think is important is PARTIAL ECONOMIC RIGHTS, even while Recognized Refugees hold irregular immigration status, which retains their stay temporary, which is what HKSAR wants.

  7. Blurred

    If the UNHCR were run properly, these cuts might arguably be considered acceptable; however it’s apparent from refugees’ reactions that even their lowest expectations aren’t met. This is what effectively overshadows the latest UNHCR FIASCO. Their new policy fails to serve their beneficiaries. UNHCR effectively miscalculated the suffering it caused. Refugees are now unavoidably forced into illegal work, prostitution and the risks of the underground economy. Isn’t this a blatant shortcoming of the Cost Cutting Policy? UNHCR is promoting in the public and government eye the blurring of distinctions between refugees and economic migrants.

  8. Shandu-X

    The Egyptian Army is in the process of amending the Constitution. The second amendment criminalizes asking the Army Counsel about finances, administration and how military courts, prisons and hospitals are run. The UNHCR has enjoyed these rights since 1951 and perhaps they are currently advising the Egyptian Army as experts on the subject.

  9. Samreen

    hi guys, do u remember me. i m samreen. i m now in bangladesh. how is everything going on there? you do good job, you defend refugee rights thank you

  10. Natsuko

    I have followed the UNHCR debate on your pages for several weeks. What I know for sure is that Vision First has a genuine passion to make a difference, just as their website states. They have developed a deep relationship with the refugees they serve and don’t need to hide behind layers of security, staff and secrecy to deliver the services they are becoming famous for in 61 countries worldwide – Good Job Vision First!

  11. Bella Chan

    Thank you Vision First for raising this matter into the headlines. The government needs to take action. This is the way forward to solve the refugee cock-up experienced in Hong Kong. Forget about the UNHCR. They are historically *irrelevant* as far as the future of our great city is concerned. Trying to change their ways, suggesting they publish an external audit is as easy as drawing blood from a stone. The battle line should move towards the government, pressuring it to handle with fairness and compassion these lives that have been entwined with ours. We should not accept that refugees in Hong Kong live like beggars when they have no alternative. They cannot return home. Many will never be resettled. The future of their families is already bound with those of Hong Kong. It is time for the government to do the right thing and legislate accordingly.

  12. Tony Judt

    HKSAR must take over all matters relating to refugees. This is going to be a long road. But it would be irresponsible to prentend that there is any serious alternative.

  13. just smile

    …………………. I got nothing to say … have waited too long for government to help me …………………

  14. UNHCR Hong Kong is not an organisation for helping persecuted people and people who flee their hometown because of the insecure situations. UNHCR Hong Kong is an NGO for making money on the back of those people in need. It’s a MAFIOSO NGO, pure and simple! It’s better to close that usless office. Where is HK Government? Why do they allow this abuse to continue?

  15. I hate UNHCR they are all full of @%@$# doing nonsense….. I don’t even want to hear their name……All they do is to judge someone because of the country the person came from . There are certain people they can accept as refugee, but even those people have to live in Hong Kong for years before they can be resettled to another country…. They are just doing rubbish with those unqualified staff…..