Too soon to cry victory

Post Date: Apr 12th, 2013 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

Vision First is glad to report that Thursday a Srilankan Tamil was accepted by the Torture Claim Appeal Board that overturned Immigration rejection at first instance. He is a single male who sought protection in Hong Kong nine years ago. He was represented by Barnes & Daly and was very surprised by the good news after all but giving up. This torture survivor is the third to be recognized since the Torture Convention was extended to the territory in 1992. The first claimant to be accepted was a Tamil in May 2008 and the second was another Tamil in March 2013 – five years after the previous one. Yesterday an Appeal Board adjudicator surprised the refugee community by overturning a Torture Claim Assessment Section rejection. This significant decision marks the first time the Appeal Board as not confirmed a prior Immigration rejection. Our advocacy efforts shifted the spotlight on claimants’ deep dissatisfaction with an appeal system that has – until today – systematically rubber-stamped every Immigration dismissal. Could this mean the administration is responding to public criticism of an effective zero-percent acceptance rate? Is change in the air and will more victims be recognized? There is no shortage of strong, substantial cases among the city’s 4300 claimants. While we acknowledge the second success in three weeks, it is far too soon to cry victory! Vision First has advocated robustly against the government’s culture of rejection, a culture that permeates many departments and punishes claimants with unnecessary hardship. Why not ask yesterday’s winner about waiting nine years for recognition? Why not ask how he likes Hong Kong and how he survives without the right to work? He might concede that his circumstances are better than others, as single men can endure suffering that families cannot, but his has been a harrowing journey of depression and despair. And today has his life really changed? After the surprise of this validation wears off, the realization will surely follow that successful claimants remain beggars without rights to residence or work. So effectively nothing changes in their daily life of emergency rations and limited rental assistance. The other question is: why Tamil + Tamil + Tamil? Here’s some background information from Wikipedia. “The Sri Lankan Civil War was a conflict fought on the island of Sri Lanka. Beginning on 23 July 1983, there was an intermittent insurgency against the government by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers), a separatist militant organisation which fought to create an independent Tamil state called Tamil Eelam in the north and the east of the island. After a 26-year military campaign, the Sri Lankan military defeated the Tamil Tigers in May 2009, bringing the civil war to an end.” With over 100,000 deaths, it was one of the longest wars in modern history. Today the vanquished Tamil are not assured that the Srilankan government will honor peace and reconciliation agreements. Hong Kong government realizes that high-profile LTTE supporters will probably face torture, or worse, if repatriated. Ultimately three wins are a drop in the ocean. It does nothing to alleviate the thirst for justice that outrages the remaining 4,300 torture claimants. On 8 April 2013, Immigration sent Vision First the latest statistics for torture claims. The letter states that in 21 years 12,409 torture claims were received. The letter was issued 8 April and does not include yesterday’s result. Attention should be given to the misleading statement that, “a total of 5 torture claims were decided as substantiated”. In actuality, it refers to last month’s acceptance of one Tamil family: a father, a mother and three children (two born in Hong Kong) who lodged one, not five separate torture claims. The letter further states that from December 2009 Immigration rejected 3,110 claims and 3,330 cases were withdrawn by those who gave up. It is our opinion that among the latter, the majority had lost hope of ever receiving a fair screening or independent appeal. Massive rejection rates are an apparent strategy to snuff out hope in the heart of refugees. For a comparison with these results, let’s analyze the Australian “Asylum Statistics 2012” – in 2012 Australia granted protection visas to 44% of refugees who arrived legally (p.10) – in 2012 Australia granted protection visas to 71% of refugees who arrived illegally by sea (p.13) Australian protection visa rates (regular arrivals) in 2012