Lost in asylum or lost in analysis?

Post Date: May 31st, 2012 | Categories: Advocacy, Media | COMMENT

The Standard, “Lost in Asylum” by Eddie Luk, published May 18, 2012

An informed discussion about refugee issues in the news is welcome, however several points need clarification in The Standard’s article. The story, while providing interesting information on specific crimes, fails to make a clear distinction between ‘South Asian criminals’ and ‘South Asian asylum-seekers’, regrettably bunching both in one damaging misconception. The examples chosen by the reporter to support his views are at best misleading – as he labels everyone “South Asians” – and are further murking the waters of stereotypes and intolerance. The fact that some asylum-seekers are hired by criminals may be true, but what does this say about the asylum process? Could a previously honest individual turn to crime after years of abusive marginalization? What desperate conditions is she forced to endure? What support does he receive in the country of asylum? How can she meet financial obligations when barred from working legally?

The harsh reality is asylum-seekers, after selling food rations and what is salvaged from garbage, are *forced* to offer manpower in the informal economy of 3D jobs. This is the dirty, dangerous and demeaning work that citizens turn their nose on, but needs to be performed for the economy to function efficiently. On occasion these tasks are controlled by triad societies, making the connecting between the world of asylum and the world of crime, that slips into predictable vicious circle. We can’t simplistically blame the supply where there is pernicious demand, especially when such demand is structural and pre-exists the arrival of asylum-seekers. In other words, when a CAT claimant commits a felony, he relieves a domestic gangster from dirtying his hand – the culprits might have changed, but sadly the law would still have been broken. One could argue that South Asian criminals accepting lower-than-local-pay says more about the globalization of crime than lawless asylum-seekers. Similarly the city has witnessed trigger-happy Mainlanders running amok on the streets, yet we don’t equate these with the big-spenders in the malls, though both entered under the same Immigration scheme. The analogy could continue with Thai massage ladies entering on tourist visas and other common abuses of the Immigration Ordinance. To this end, this article is unconvincing in shedding light on the criminality of asylum-seekers in general and South Asian ones in particular.

Moreover, the story’s arguments about asylum abuse are laughable. The evidence does point towards most CAT claimants delaying their case with stalling tactics, like failing to show up, presenting late evidence, calling sick, changing lawyers or phones, etc. However, is this malicious behaviour or a plausible survival strategy? Let’s imagine being in their uncomfortable shoes and facing such bleak prospects. For example, if you were a Tamil Srilankan and were about to be deported to face torture our ImmD doesn’t consider ‘likely’ would you cooperate with procedures? If you were a Pakistani fleeing tribal/Taleban/tyrannical persecution, would you facilitate your return into harm’s way? We might note these individuals are acutely aware every single torture claim of 1,717 was rejected, between Jan 2010 and Apr 2012, leading to immediate deportation procedures. They know there was one success in 2500 cases, which means the odds of success are an unreachable 2500 to 1. Indeed why are we surprised claimants resort to every legal stratagem to delay the inevitable? In substance, many stall their cases, not because they are unfounded (maybe some are), but because the system is flawed and designed to invariably fail everyone. This raises the question: how can 2500 claimants all be liars? Meanwhile, it’s understandable that anyone fearing for her life delays deportation, even if at times such behaviour might be construed as abusing the system. Why should we be surprised that 5.8% of rejected claimants were prosecuted for overstaying or illegally remaining? Rather it’s surprising the percentage isn’t higher with such widespread fear of returning home. Perhaps we might inquire how CIC detention numbers are rising and how many volunteered for repatriation. Predictably, until we see changes in CAT results we won’t see asylum-seekers rushing in to complete interview processes.



  1. UNHCR refugee

    “Everyone lies on the CAT document” – this is comment is very untrue and very upsetting. One Sri Lankan refugee was accepted under the torture convention in 2008. That’s one man who did not lie. My family with several children was accepted by UNHCR and we did NOT lie on our documents. Several of my Sri Lankan friends with their families have also been accepted together with several dozen I do not know in person. Looking at these figures any right minded person would disagree that every Sri Lankan asylum-seeker is lying. Whoever supports such views is supporting discrimination and FUELING ANTISOCIAL POLEMIC- a refugee father from Sri Lanka

  2. dar-dar

    Clarissa I am sorry you are meeting the wrong asylum-seekers. When I arrived in Hong Kong they called a wheelchair to help me off the plane. I had been tortured. I will spare you the details. My right knee was unusable and it took TWO YEARS of physiotherapy at the hospital before I could walk again. I’m from Sri Lanka, I am Tamil and I barely survived the suffering that was inflicted upon me. If I didn’t escape I wouldn’t be alive today. Further, last week UK Government deported 35 Srilankans who failed to gain asylum. They were escorted by 75 Immigration officers. Many were arrested upon arrival and TWO of their bodies were discovered THIS WEEK. The Government blames gangsters but gangsters cannot kidnap people arriving at the airport. Only the government is responsible. It is dangerous to paint everyone with the same brush.

  3. OK Amy

    That’s right! The results speak for themselves. HKSAR is sending a clear message: DO NOT BOTHER COMING HERE BECAUSE WE WILL NOT ACCEPT YOU NO MATTER WHAT STORY YOU TELL US! We will pretend to listen, we will pretend to screen, we will pretend to judge, but WE WILL NEVER ACCEPT YOUR TORTURE CASE no matter how bad/true/genuine/well-founded it is. If you are a genuine claimant, go someplace else!

  4. Juve79

    The government is sending a signal to the world: don’t come to Hong Kong, we will not accept anyone and the United Nations conventions mean nothing to us as we want to protect our city for our citizens only, but we want to come and do business and make money in every country of the world. Send us your money, send us your business people, your rich people but do not send us people in need as we have no justice. Period.

  5. Failed Justice

    Dear Vision First – you are very right? There is something shady here. There is something very wrong with these results. How can everybody be cheating the process? Why would the government want to turn down every torture claim? The process is a failure and a fake justice system. Why sign the Torture Convention if it won’t be taken seriously? Why bother with investigation if everyone will be deported? Why waste time and money with lawyers and hearings, interviews and appeals if justice cannot be done? 1717 LAIRS out of 1717 CASES is just not right – this is an insult to human dignity and respect. This is a sad day for Hong Kong people.

  6. Complaint

    My DLS lawyer was so bad she did not believe what I was telling her. She was not on my side and did not even pretend to do her job. She accused me of of harming my children so that I can come to Hong Kong to get ID card. Who would do that to their own children? She said “You burn your children and beat your children to get ID”. I told her this is impossible, I would never do it. How can she think that I would injury my children to come to Hong Kong. She is mixed up. She is mixing up my case and it is better she does not represent my case. It’s in God’s hands now!

  7. RBCL joke

    my hopes are fading. my mind is consumed and i am about to lose everything. I cannot take the stress and anxiety any more. I will be rejected and I will be deported. Since there is nothing but pain and death awaiting me in my country. I will refuse deportation and remain in CIC detention indefinitely. There are nine of my brothers there already. We have no hope. We have no future. We appeal to the compassion of HK people. If you don’t believe us then go yourself to Sri Lanka and find out what will happen to returning Tamil who have hid in Hong Kong for many years. Don’t ask the government. Go to the villages and find out for yourself. How can immigration say my case is non-genuine when they haven’t even been to my country?

  8. Loose ends

    As a lawyer handling CAT claims, I know there are some fabrications to embellish reports, yet clients understand that nothing really works with this screening, so how can we blame them for what are ultimately tactics of despair? Those who haven’t gone hungry, those who haven’t slept in the streets, indeed those who haven’t known torture CAN NOT appreciate the worries and fears that are keeping hundreds of claimants awake all night, for weeks and for months on end. My sympathy goes to everyone who thought would find protection in Hong Kong, but did not.

  9. clarissa

    Your point is well taken, and I agree, why do those that lie lie and how many are really telling the truth.
    I do think that another point well worth thinking about is how different people from different areas look at life.

  10. Thank you Clarissa, those are interesting points. However, the fact that people say they lie on CAT document is well known. Still, what do they lie about? As we posted in our blog, some people may lie, or feel compelled to lie, because they have very little understanding of their circumstances and even less about the legal criteria to be recognized as a refugee. Many people decide, or are made to decide by their family, to flee first and ask questions later. When they are in HK they learn they need to say this and that to CAT in order to stay, and so they diligently follow. Only later do they understand their mistake. By then it is too late for them to have a second chance. Having said that, there are of course people who may have no reason to seek international protection, but this is a normal thing. That is why there is a screening mechanism. Again, there might be liars among the current 6600 registered CAT claimants, but can they all be liars? At some point the government needs to prove the Torture Convention is taken seriously.

  11. clarissa

    You may be interested to hear that a few weeks ago we had a return visit from a family from Sri Lanka, who have recently given birth to their second Hong Kong born child. The wife has started to go to the SWD rather than ISS for help, not sure why she did this or if this is usually possible for asylum seekers by the way; in any case she was complaining about everything (a large number of asylum seekers who do come to us here do complain about all of you helping them as i`m sure you know). Someone in the Local Office asked her and her husband why they didn`t simply go home?
    I have to say that the other volunteers in the Local Office will do all they can to assist asylum seekers and refugees, but don`t expect much pity; ‘you should hear my grandparents` stories of life here as refugees back in the 1950s when we were still under the British’ is the usual comment after we`ve heard the usual tales of woe.
    In any case to continue; you can imagin our faces when the Sri Lankan lady explained that they couldn`t as they can`t afford to pay for their own tickets but would need to be paid for by the Hong Kong government. ‘We’d have to go to prison for 7months’ she told us, ‘because we lied on our CAT document. Everyone does you know?’ she went on to say.
    I think the words ‘and i`m saying nothing’ come to mind.