Written by Christopher McNulty
It needs to be considered that the way in which Hong Kong’s Social Welfare Department (SWD) treats refugees can lead to refugees committing criminal acts. This will be explained by defining and discussing the criminological theories of opportunity and labelling and explaining how current SWD policies might lead refugees to commit criminal acts.
Opportunity theory can be defined as, “offenders having inadequate or inappropriate means or opportunities to achieve certain goals relative to other people in society” (White, 2014, p. 71). Considering refugees in Hong Kong using this theory, it can be argued that crime is generated by this type of treatment. For example, if refugees don’t have adequate means of living and opportunities to better themselves through education and work, there is a chance they will try to better themselves through ‘illegal’ activities such as work performed without authorization. As reported in the South China Morning Post, “asylum seekers awaiting the outcome of their claim with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), recognised refugees awaiting resettlement to another country and torture claimants are banned from doing paid or unpaid work” (Chan, 2013).
Looking at this through opportunity theory, it can take years for refugees to be screened and possibly resettle in another country and, while waiting, they cannot work to better themselves and earn money for their family. Using this example there is a likelihood that if a refugee family needed money for rent, food, clothes or the children’s school and if the only way to achieve this was stealing or working illegally, they would have no choice but to commit criminal acts to meet what most people would agree are basic daily needs, in this case, unmet by the SWD.
Labelling theory can be described as society labelling an individual, which in turn can cause the individual becoming influenced by the label and acting out that labelled behaviour (Holmes, 2012, p. 250). It can be argued that refugees can be stigmatised due to the current system and laws in place. For example, refugees can be seen by the Hong Kong public as being dependant on the SWD and not searching for jobs, as they are not aware of the current government policies which prohibit them from working. This type of stigmatization can cause refugees to be always seen by the public as individuals who are content being dependant on welfare and not wanting to work. This can lead to refugees believing social change will never occur and becoming influenced by the label and turn to conducting criminal acts such as theft and working illegally.
In conclusion, as shown through the criminological perspectives of opportunity and labelling, the current policies of the HK SWD can cause refugees to commit criminal acts due to them not enjoying adequate support and being labelled by the general public as continuously dependant on welfare and not looking for employment. To create a stronger relationship between refugees and the government, refugee policy needs to change to minimise the potential of criminal acts being committed by refugees trying to meet rent payments, purchase essential foodstuffs and making ends meet.
Currently in the media: