A shattered life

Post Date: Oct 25th, 2010 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

Seeking asylum in Hong Kong is like trying to pass through the proverbial Eye of the Needle. There are over 6600 asylum seekers – whose lives are suspended without hope – and I am but one who fled persecution after political activism shattered my life. My opinions are molded by the harsh circumstances I experienced and want to share with you. People unfortunately flee their countries for many different reasons. However, for a case to be recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), it must satisfy these five criteria:

1.   the claimant must be outside his/her country of origin;
2.   there must be objective, well-founded fears of persecution;
3.   the persecution must be for race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion;
4.   the claimant must be unable to avail himself of his country’s protection;
5.   owing to such fear, the claimant must be unwilling to return to his country.

Of all the UNHCR + CAT applicants, roughly 75% are from South East Asia, while the remaining come from Africa, with just a handful from other countries. Since the number has grown in recent years, I wonder what is the breakdown between “genuine cases” and “bogus cases” as the system is open to abuse by those fooled by the smugglers’ promise of high-paying jobs. The problem is this: while it’s easy to be smuggled into the city, getting out is a risky process which can land you in jail. Let’s face it, the UNHCR and the government struggle to distinguish between genuine and economic asylum seekers – a delicate process indeed as mistakes can cost the deportees’ lives.

Shattered life

I have been stuck in HK for over four years. My case was rejected by the UNHCR after an anguishing process that convinced me their Refugee Status Determination process (or RSD) lacks transparency and fails the high standards of fairness they advocate. I heard many call their case-officers “baby lawyers”: fresh from graduation, with no practical experience, background knowledge and, worst of all, no humility! They fail to empathize with our tragedies and circumstances, traumatizing more than helping us.
I personally felt my case-officer was out to fault whatever I said, rather than try to understand. I believe if the tables turned, I would have handled the process more competently. Some of the questions he asked were downright irritating and upsetting. It seemed as if he had a personal vendetta and was more preoccupied with discrediting me, than grasping the complexity of my case. He never offer a kind word, despite me opened my heart to narrate the nightmare that shattered my life. Humility ought to be a paramount quality in this field – yet sadly it’s lacking. How can you assess personal tragedy, if you fail to step into people’s shoes? Just ask: what would life be like if I were this person, born where he was born, suffering what he suffered? What if my life, my family were on the line? Somebody should teach these officers that RSD work is not police interrogation, but the international community rescuing those who suffered grave injustices. It’s no surprise we find more comfort and understanding from churches and charities, than from those in an actual position of power. There is more, but best to leave the rest unsaid.

Asylum seekers live like a big family and share confidentialities amongst themselves, which is the reason we ask “What?? … Why?? …” after each case is decided, as we know much more than the UNHCR about what’s happening in our countries. The UNHCR today is so detached from reality, they even seem proud to notify rejections and no court of law or human rights lawyer can do anything about it! They are totally untouchable – if their office were audited, the world would be shocked by what’s discovered. It appears as if cases are randomly decided by lots, as recognition is quick for certain nationalities given blanket approval. This might be good for the UNHCR as it simplifies their work, but makes their results less credible. Many applicants, who don’t come from such countries, joke that even physical appearance and clothing play a part. The experience lawyers at the Hong Kong Refugee Advice Center are trying to address the inequalities of this process, but it’s a steep mountain to climb and they can only accept the most obvious cases.

Also, there are too many “economic asylum seekers” who confuse the process by swelling numbers and harming our genuine cases. I realize it’s hard for the UNHCR to distinguish between these, yet it shouldn’t take years to figure out who-is-who, as justice delayed is justice betrayed! Taking unnecessarily time to handle cases, not only destroys our future, but also that of our family left behind. What if your spouse and children were forced into hiding for years as you sought refuge abroad? My case was rejected by the UNHCR with a bafflingly dismissive reason: LACK OF CREDIBILITY! Needless to say, I told the truth about my shattered life, but my evidence and testimonies were rejected. If they call me a liar, why don’t I open my case to the public and let others decide whether I told the truth? This might be pointless for me, but it could help to improve the RSD process for those who follow. Ultimately it’s a matter of justice: either my story was credible, or I was dishonest. Since the United Nations was established for peace and gave the UNHCR it’s mandate 50 years ago, isn’t it time transparency underpinned their credibility?
(by a Concerned Appellant)