Welcome to the Removal Assessment Section

Post Date: Apr 24th, 2014 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

The news of a Somali journalist losing faith in Hong Kong and returning to war-torn Mogadishu has spread around the world. His decision further discredits Hong Kong Immigration’s reputation tarnished by its dismal protection rate: 11 recognized victims of torture out of 13,000 applications in 22 years.

Such a risible protection rate fails to instill confidence in those who come to Hong Kong believing in its rule of law and respect for human rights. It appears that “Brand Hong Kong” has excelled at elevating the city’s status adhering to the Golden Rule – who holds the gold makes the rules..

A class struggle divides the ruling elite from the “undeserving”, those incompetent enough to be poor, wretched to be ethnic minorities, nauseatingly ill, annoyingly handicapped, unattractively old, and tolerated by special visas (FDH, import labour) and the greatest pariahs of globalization: asylum seekers and refugees.

Vision First laments the culture of rejection that contaminates all government departments and the fake NGOs that do the authority’s bidding, never putting themselves on the line to address social injustice. It is more fun and safer to side with the powerful than champion the cause of the “underserving”.

The Immigration Department underwent some major changes recently that might turn out to be cosmetic. It is said that the proof of the cake is in the eating, so by year end we shall see if the department will recognize those few refugees previously accepted by the ousted UNHCR.

Vision First was shocked to learn that the Immigration Department renamed the branch that determines the now unified protection claims. Last summer the government referred to it as the “Special Assessment Section” (neutral meaning), but suddenly “Removal Assessment Section” (deterrent meaning) appeared on Immigration letterhead.

This name implies that rejection of asylum claims is the aim of the assessment and protection not a guiding principle.  The appellation reflects a position in line with an authoritarian regime and implies non-refoulment protection does not exist – not in name, or spirit, or in the mind of assessors.

The Removal Assessment Section sends an undesirable deterrent message. It implies that asylum seekers are to be treated like trash, as “undeserving” elements bent on abusing the system for unjustified reasons and as such must be removed as expeditiously as possible. It isn’t implausible that staff promotion will based on successful removal rates.

Hong Kong Government should be ashamed of the “Removal Assessment Section”. The name is biased. The designation is tainted and damages both the intention and spirit of the Convention against Torture.  Such a name dehumanizes asylum seekers, perpetuates caustic myths about their agency and sends a message that they will not be treated fairly.

The naming is a mistake. It takes too far the securitization of borders by instilling fear in vulnerable people who might – imagine that! – be fleeing war, torture, violence, torture or persecution.

What happened to giving the benefit of doubt? What happened to a level playing field? What happened to court instructions against ‘antagonistic behaviour’ by Immigration officers?

Hong Kong could look at Canada that calls it the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (“IRB”).

Local and international media exposed the grim conditions endured by refugees from arrival to removal by HKSAR while their rights are often violated beyond the public eye