Stuck in HK’s bureaucratic purgatory

Post Date: Jun 10th, 2012 | Categories: Media | COMMENT

SCMP – Simpson Cheung writes on Jun 10, 2012

A young African granted refugee status by the United Nations is angry at being denied an education and the right to work in Hong Kong. Amed (a pseudonym), 23, has been in the city for eight years, but since turning 18, no school has been willing to admit him. And as a non-permanent resident, he is not allowed to work. But providing education to refugees would make it easier for them to resettle elsewhere, community organisations say. For now, Amed is still waiting to be resettled in another country. He has been rejected by the United States and Canada, and has waited a year to hear from France. As such, he is forced to occupy his time by playing soccer, watching television, or window-shopping because he has no money. “How is it that I can be in Hong Kong without going to school for eight years?” Amed lamented. Among 146 UN-recognised refugees in Hong Kong, Amed arrived in the city in 2004 when he was 16 after fleeing a war in his home country, which he refused to name due to security reasons.

Two years later he was granted refugee status, but he has since lost all contact with his family. When he arrived, Amed was admitted to Delia Memorial School (Hip Wo) on an exceptional basis for an initiation programme by the then Education and Manpower Bureau. For six months he learned Cantonese and English and showed his talent by winning the most-improved student award. But he says he has since forgotten all the Cantonese. After the programme ended, he was told the government would not refer students over the age of 18 to schools, and that he would probably be leaving soon. So Amed personally applied to two schools, but did not hear from them. He also applied for courses ran by the Employee Retraining Board and the Vocational Training Council. But he was rejected because the law forbids him from working. Eager to learn, Amed thinks the government should provide him with an education. On his part, he has attended some English classes organised by non-governmental organisations, but he wants to study more advanced courses to improve his future prospects. “When you are allowed to go to another country, the knowledge you have gained in Hong Kong would make life easier,” he said.

Annie Lin, a community organiser with the Society of Community Organisation, said: “Those who are recognised as refugees should be allowed to work and young people should be allowed to study.” Currently, Amed is living in a Caritas shelter and gets HK$300 a month from the UN. The government pays his board and lodging. In a judicial review last year, the Court of First Instance ruled that the Immigration Department could review whether refugees could work on case-by-case basis. But no one has been allowed to as yet. The case would be appealed in September, Lin said. An Immigration Department spokesman says the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees has not been extended to Hong Kong, and the city has no obligation to admit individuals seeking refugee status. He says education assistance is provided to child refugees on compassionate grounds and does not object to adults applying to any school on a self-financing basis. At the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, a spokesman says the agency would protect refugees awaiting resettlement from being deported.



  1. Bryson P

    I knew a young Pakistani boy who studied at Delia in Kwun Tong. He was a bright student and aced most of the subjects to go on to a better school where his Chinese was soon better than mine. My colleagues and friends have talked about these issues and believe that seeking asylum in Hong Kong should not be equated with an adolescence of miserable struggle. Hong Kong could do so much more to ensure refugee adults can work and refugee children can study. However, until we find the POLITICAL WILL, nothing is going to change, sadly

  2. Joseph Ng

    There is a need to address the issue of young people not having access to suitable education, particularly when genuine refugees who will never return to their homeland for their education or anything else for that matter. Thank you Vision First. Joseph Ng

  3. Li Hung

    Hello Vision First! I would like to add my voice to the call for Hong Kong Government to treat refugee youngsters with more consideration and foresight as resources are not lacking. But, honestly, where is the political will? Our administration is too concerned about protecting wealth and status to care about those who need assistance to kick-start their life with education. Cheers, Hung

  4. clarissa

    The H.K. SAR Government does not provide any free education for ANYONE over the age of 18. However there are some grants, but I`m not sure thought if those without ID cards can apply for these.
    As to work, well yes, I agree, refugees should be made to get jobs and pay their own way. The government is now forced to pay out huge amounts of money for refugees, even those accepted by America or Canada; this doesn`t seem fair to me. Why should Hong Kong tax payers have to shoulder this? It would indeed be better for this programme to be scrapped. By the way this should only be for refugees, NOT asylum seekers.
    The only problem is that rents are very high (and to obtain a flat one needs to pay 3 months rent in advance); and as refugees are not ID card holders they would need to pay full hospital fees – plus their children would have to go to private schools. At the same time the food programme would stop, and utility bills would have to be met. Sadly until one has lived in Hong Kong for 7 years one cannot get any real help from the SWD; so those unable to find jobs would be in difficulty.
    One idea would be for the U.S. and Canadian consulates to speed up the resettlement programme and at the same time help find jobs for those they have accepted.

  5. Student X

    I want an education please !!! I have been a refugee for three years in Hong Kong and I only have study English at British Council in Admiralty. But they give certificate without exam or testing so their classes are only good for new arrivals who need to learn English language to survive here. Please help Vision First to help us more – God bless !!!

  6. Shatin Monroy

    Interesting article, thank you for posting it as I missed the paper yesterday. I see the point. Refugees are stranded in HK for many years and young men and women don’t have the opportunity to further their studies passed the age of compulsory school (Form 7?). In a city of vast opportunity and potential this is goes against their basic human rights which is an issue that needs to be addressed. There is no lack of classroom that could be used in the evening, and teachers who would volunteer an hour a week to help those who are really keen to learn. I’m a teacher myself and I know many of my colleagues would be glad to pitch in. Cheers, Monroy

  7. want to study

    I am 22 and a torture claimant since I was 18 when I came to China and then Hong Kong. I want an education and I want to work to go to school. If I don’t study there is no future for me and here there are many many good schools that could offer nighttime courses to people in need. I can study English at Vision First but I want to become electrician man for my career. I will keep trying to find a chance – Bobby B

  8. Salla 2009

    I wrote to many schools last year and they told me that asylum-seekers cannot study after the age of 18 because the government will not pay for the tuitions. This month and this summer I will write to all the schools again to ask for a high school chance. I stopped my education three years ago and need to study for my future – thank you

  9. Continue my study is my dream and I ask Vision First to help me with courses to increase my knowledge for a better future. Refugees can not study in HK and this means our time is wasted. Years go by very fast and I do not have chance to study anything.