The University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Comparative and Public Law (CCPL) within the Faculty of Law approached Vision First to organize a real life experiential learning opportunity for their students. Considered “a day in the life of an asylum advocate”, this opportunity is open to LLB, JD and LLM students who want to learn firsthand about asylum seekers and the challenges they face in Hong Kong. This practical experience will introduce law students to the challenges of seeking refuge from the prospective of aid workers, duty lawyers and refugees themselves. The goal is to expose future lawyers to the reality of asylum that for most remains a theoretical concept, far removed from the challenges and hardships of the process. Through this workshop, students will have a better idea of the struggles that refugees/CAT claimants face, as well as the work dedicated advocates do in the areas of refugee support, protection and rights.
In a city that refugees have described as “a prison without walls”, Vision First has emerged as the watchdog for refugee rights. Those who fear harm in their countries, turn to our organization to counter the structures of injustice and abuse that fetter their existence. Vision First’s leadership in advocacy was evidenced by the latest “March for Protection” in which 800 refugees, asylum seekers and torture claimants protested against a .02% protection rate in 21 years since the Convention Against Torture was extended to Hong Kong. With over 500 refugee members, Vision First is a unique organization where programs, classes and services are deployed to assist the most vulnerable individuals in society. Prohibited from working and provided with insufficient in-kind assistance and no financial aid, refugees scrape through to survive in our expensive city. Effectively reduced to a combination of begging (legally) and working (illegally) to eke out an existence, refugees are criminalized by draconian laws and demonized by government propaganda that brands them economic migrants at best, and criminals deserving deportation at worst. We will prove how grossly unreasonable, and therefore unlawful, this is.
The complexity of the refugee experience will be examined over three full days with the equivalent of 1.5 days spent with Vision First.
- 5 JUNE 2013, AM: Vision First’s centre. Students will be introduced to operations that serve over 50 members daily, including: Hong Kong’s only refugee shelter, case work, class schedule, donation networks, community participation programs, as well as paralegal, education, medical and counselling work. Supported by 90 volunteers who provided 15,000 hours of service in 2012, and distributing over 100,000 HKD in financial aid a month, Vision First is a vibrant agency that serves a vital role in the community.
- 5 JUNE 2013, PM: The second part of the day will be directed by a barrister who is well-known for his robust defense of torture claimants. He will expose the shortcomings of a screening mechanism that accepted only four cases in two decades. Examples will be given about duty lawyers who wholly failed their clients due to negligence in terms of legal representation and research. Case history will stress how important COI research is for effective representation and how issues of trust, trauma and PTSD challenge the recollection of events.
- 6 JUNE 2013, PM: A field trip to the shantytowns hundreds of refugees call home. The students will witness the squalid living conditions that are effectively government sponsored. Students will hear firsthand from refugees about the hardships refugees have endured while waiting in limbo for years, even a decade, as a “Culture of Rejection” frustrates their legitimate demands, in hopes refugees will give up and stop bothering Hong Kong’s affluent citizens and their indifferent administrators.
By the end, it is expected that a street-smart, accurate picture will emerge of an asylum process that is at odds with the lofty ideals students encounter in legal textbooks. This program is a valuable experience for tomorrow’s asylum lawyers – and possibly magistrates and judges – to learn how procedural failures tragically affect the lives of those our laws were enacted to protect. The responsibility will then be upon the participants themselves to influence the change they wish to see in our society.
A PDF of this article is available here and the call for application is here.