On 23 January, Vision First reported that the government fails to support kindergarten students. The Education Bureau accepts placements for children between the age of 3 and 5 and the Immigration Department makes no opposition, but there is no support. We challenge the logic of allowing the right to school, while denying the ability to so, as destitute refugee parents are jailed if arrested working.
On 28 January, Vision First wrote to the Security Bureau about this shameful situation that appears be both inhumane and illegal since Hong Kong has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which rights are enshrined in domestic law. There is a clear disconnect in government policies that hinder access to kindergarten as a misguided strategy to encourage voluntary departures.
There is no other explanation or motive for such an unreasonable policy as Hong Kong cannot turn its back on the crucial education of young children. Taking into consideration that protection claimants are stranded here for years, often stretching into a decade, such punitive policies harm a second generation of refugees that, born in Hong Kong, might in the future enjoy the right of abode when laws change.
On 30 January, Vision First led a delegation of 19 kindergarten children to the Legislative Council for a press conference with lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung. The parents voiced their concerns about the lack of financial support which has kindergartens shun refugee applications, worrying that bills will not be paid. An African father, torture case not assessed for 11 years, lamented being disrespectfully rejected by twenty school that had said they had vacancies, before he admitted being a refugee.
Admission clerks inquired how he would pay various fees (at times amounting to 30,000 HK$) and, upon hearing that he had a letter from the government, would become annoyed with him. They would brushing him off and abruptly dismiss him with, “We will call you later”. That never happened on twenty occasions. Apparently skin colour is no concern if you carry bags of money, but the refugee labelling is impossible to overcome. The lack of adequate support exacerbates discrimination against this minority social group.
Legally speaking it’s a no-brainer: the government has a constitutional duty towards impoverished refugee parents and the kindergarten education of their children. Vision First urges the Security Bureau to comply with its obligations and take positive steps towards reformulate a broken policy. Kindergarten students must receive the same support as primary school kids, because the right to education starts when the majority of resident children attend “K1 or K2”.
These and many more parents are determined to fight for the future of their children – their only hope in a grim life of asylum. The ball is now in the government court. The Security Bureau must make the next move: either it reviews an unfair policy, or it encourages all refugee parents to apply for judicial reviews in the High Court, for a result that will surely complies with international treaties and domestic law.