Abraham Lincoln is attributed the saying, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
According to many refugees who watched a live news-feed at Vision First office, this maxim might apply to the Hong Kong’s 2017 electoral reform. Few are in any doubt about the government’s flagging popularity and the escalating challenges it is likely to face after a pro-establishment walk-out bungled the historical vote: 28 No – 8 Yes.
On offer was pseudo universal suffrage for the 2017 Chief Executive election, when eligible voters were expected to cast ballots for pre-approved candidates.
An African refugee observed, “It’s like in my country. Without rigging the election, the president would never win. It is fake universal suffrage! It is meaningless because voters cannot vote for their own choice, but only vote for whoever the Government will select. Hong Kong people are not stupid! They know it is a fake system promoted to legitimize whoever is put in power.”
A Pakistani refugee exclaimed, “Before, people accepted the governor sent from London, and now, they accept the Chief Executive approved by Beijing. But don’t tell them to vote for him, or to love him. The Government offered fake elections and the people said, ‘No thank you! You choose the leader, not us. So what is the meaning of everyone going out to vote for him?’”
As he assembled a sign for the World Refugee Day demonstration, another refugee remarked, “Hong Kong likes to have fake systems. Like the asylum screening (USM). There are lawyers, officers and appeal judges doing their important work, but the process is fake. Refugees know they cannot win their claims. Just like HK voters know they cannot win the election. You cannot fool all the people all the time!”
Rooted in painfully lived experience, these observation strike a chord. On paper, the Unified Screening Mechanism appears to offer protection, but how often does it grant it? Refugees complete forms, submit documents and attend interviews hoping for positive results. And then they wait, and wait and wait. The government arm is extended, but unreachable. The invisible hand holds back the promises made.
The refugee recognition rate speaks for itself. Since the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) was extended to Hong Kong in 1992, more than 20,000 asylum seekers lodged claims with the Immigration Department, but only 28 were ever accepted, including several children born in Hong Kong.
That’s a 0.14% acceptance rate, a far cry from the 20-50% in develop countries, see Australia for example.
Can refugees be blamed for lamenting that the screening process lacks credibility? Claimants give less weight to the Immigration Ordinance, 480 duty lawyers and appeal judges, than to protection results, known as ‘substantiated claims’.
For the men and women who fear being repatriated into harm’s way, the complex and sophisticated screening mechanism is judged by its outcome – does it protect? Until results prove otherwise, it is hard to disagree that the Unified Screening Mechanism appears to be less than genuine.