Does the war on welfare and refugees also target minors?

Post Date: Jun 8th, 2015 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

The asylum conundrum in Hong Kong is believed to be caused by individuals fleeing impoverished countries to seek greener pastures in Hong Kong. They are said to challenge border security and our government’s authority to undeservedly claim benefits that ought to be reserved for resident poor.

Although there might be individuals abusing the asylum system, who is responsible for the systemic failure to keep up with global challenges? There was recently great media uproar over a 12 year-old undocumented Chinese boy who was mercilessly hounded by xenophobic, localist groups into self-deportation – or what is euphemistically known to refugees as ‘voluntary departure’.

The pressure groups involved harassed the boy in a hateful witch-hunt as a warning to prospective migrants who might consider following in his footsteps. But hold that thought for a moment – doesn’t such bigotry conveniently overlook the 1.5 million Chinese migrants who fled to Hong Kong in past decades?

Protesters were quoted by the SCMP as saying, “We have to ‘kill one to warn 100’ who are abusing loopholes in the system.” But who is at fault for the existence of such loopholes? Are migrants to be blamed for leveraging limited resources and options, or should public opinion blame the architects of our flawed system?

The story of this undocumented boy resonates with another undocumented, unaccompanied minor recently encountered by Vision First. This gentle and soft-spoken youngster narrated a perilous odyssey through unfamiliar lands across Vietnam and China to Hong Kong. He was locked in a shipping container like livestock sent to the slaughter house.

His journey ended when his handler abandoned him, trusting and hopeful, in Sham Shui Po with the reassuring words, “Wait here that I go buy some food.” That was the last time he saw a familiar face. The person he had trusted with his life then vanished. Lonely in a teeming crowd, hungry before displays of abundance, he was homesick and desperate. “What will happen to me now?” he fearfully wondered.

Misha, not his real name, was eventually assisted by co-nationals who, similarly to him, found hardship and misery, not the protection and security they sought in our city. The 17 year-old boy struggled against an asylum and welfare system that regrettably failed to recognize his deep vulnerability.

For the past few months tried to receive assistance from the Social Welfare Department after his application for USM protection was lodged on 20 April 2015. Misha however was told by a SWD social worker that first his identity had to be confirmed with the Immigration Department, before he became eligible for assistance.

And yet Misha had already received his Immigration recognizance papers on 16 April 2015. If the SWD computers are not connected to Immigration’s database, then surely an urgent phone call should be made when a homeless minor calls for emergency assistance.

The fact is that almost two months later Misha remains de facto homeless. Vision First often encounter similar problems. The data of refugees who lodged applications for asylum is not promptly accessible by other departments for them to become eligible for assistance. Instead they are made to wait homeless and in desperate need of protection, despite some of them being minors or having children.

Vision First cannot but query who is responsible for such mistreatment of vulnerable refugees. Is it malpractice, indifference, or downright incompetence? Or is it a systematic, intentional form of low-level state violence perpetrated to appease xenophobic groups and perpetuate fears of an unsubstantiated floodgate scenario?

It is a black day for Hong Kong when the state flexes its muscle against children and minors.

Street-sleepers in SSP
For lack of rent assistance, refugees are known to live in makeshift shelters erected under a flyover in Sham Shui Po, an area that dozens of Hong Kong street-sleepers have called home for years.