Against a culture of suspicion

Post Date: May 13th, 2012 | Categories: 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.

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  1. Ben,Congratulations on your refugee status. Hopefully it is one of many legal victories in your future and a real foundation in trying to get your life started again. I am glad to see that you are not resting on your laurels and have the courage to keep pursuing your rights. I hope the time is coming when Canada and other countries wake up from their nightmare and break from these barbaric practices of the United States justice system.

  2. Chibu

    The government is quick to denigrate asylum-seekers by labeling them as “overstayers” and “illegal immigrants”. This serves the purpose of deflecting attention from their legitimate expectations to what sits well with government policy. Immigration control should do its job while respecting the rights of those who seek protection in our territory.