Refugees denied the right to work

Post Date: Jan 7th, 2011 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

Refugees are the most resilient people: their very determination to survive against all adversity is testament to their tenacity and endurance. When stranded in Hong Kong, our beneficiaries’ most painful realization is they are POWERLESS to do anything to better their life, besides sitting and waiting, begging and praying. The consequence of stranding so many helpless and impoverished people on the street is depressing for an affluent, progressive, open-minded society. Because refugees lived productive and active lives in their countries, with jobs, careers and good prospects, they now find perpetual idleness exceedingly disheartening. We are often told that “lack of work” is the one most painful reality they can never get used to, compared to their previous life, in a metropolis famous for its workaholic mentality. There really is only so much time anyone can sit on a park bench without going crazy! Yesterday’s court order has made their waiting even harder, their future even more impenetrable. By denying refugees the opportunity to support themselves, the HKSAR is condemning them to poverty and exposing them to the social ills stemming from such a coerced existence.

The Court of First Instance ruled that the Director of Immigration has the right to decide on a case-by-case basic if refugees can work and we all know the answer is always negative. This verdict is most traumatic for refugees without resettlement options, condemned to remain stateless in Hong Kong, with their families and young children needy of everything. Yesterday we delivered 50 nappies to a mother who gave birth before Christmas. She was at her wits ends to solve her infant’s pressing requirements. She whispered in despair “What can I do? Do I have to steal food and nappies for my baby? I can’t just sit here in the cold and do nothing while my baby gets sick. What will the police say when I explain that I had no other choice?” Fortunately we were there, but there are a hundred more moms beyond our reach. Let’s be clear, the court didn’t deliberate on the 6600 asylum seekers, but only for the 105 Mandate Refugees, recognized as deserving international protection, who would hardly put a dent in the local work force, if ever they got a job. Today they learn that a two year court battle was lost and an appeal is as remote as unlikely. The judge spoke about not giving a ‘ray of hope’ to illegal immigrants, but he’s confusing his apples and oranges: illegal immigrants are here by choice and have an option to return home – refugees arrived by duress and have nowhere else to go. In our opinion, political and economic concerns trumped humanitarian decency and for Hong Kong refugees the descent into grief accelerates.

South China Morning Post – “Refugees denied right to work” by Chris Ip, Jan 07, 2011

The Court of First Instance ruled yesterday that the government had no obligation to allow certified refugees to work in Hong Kong, even if they suffer mental illnesses as a result of not being able to gain employment. The judgment dismissed the claims of five mandated refugees and successful torture claimants who have been in Hong Kong for up to nine years but have failed to find a host country to resettle them. The decision means they will remain here in limbo – dependent on social services and with no path to citizenship in Hong Kong. Two have been diagnosed with depression and another with post traumatic stress disorder, owing to their inability to work and provide for themselves and their families. Mr Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung acknowledged that refusing to allow someone to work could amount to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” and thus violate a basic human right. Nevertheless, he said the director of immigration had full discretion to grant the right to work on a case-by-case basis. Immigration had never given permission to work in this situation, the judge said in November. He said yesterday: “It is for the decision maker, but not the court, to make the decision. The court must not usurp the role of the director.” Cheung said that the Bill of Rights – which enshrines human rights in Hong Kong – does not apply to the applicants because they do not have the legal right to enter and remain in the city; they are allowed here temporarily. Human rights lawyer Mark Daly, solicitor for the applicants, said the ruling showed the judiciary was becoming increasingly unreceptive to human rights arguments. He noted recent High Court decisions to deny transsexuals the right to marry, and to allow the deportation of Edward Wilson Ubamaka to Nigeria where he could be prosecuted for a crime for which he has already served jail time. “Without the judiciary breathing life into the Basic Law and these human rights instruments, government power will remain basically unchecked,” Daly said. “I think it leads to bad – or no – policies because effectively they’re given carte blanche to do whatever they want to do.” The government had argued that granting work rights to refugees, even those whose claims of persecution and torture had been validated, would attract more people with questionable claims to take a chance on coming to Hong Kong. Cheung said the director of immigration was entitled to think that any sign of relaxation in the government’s attitude would be a “ray of hope” for illegal immigrants.

A VF Member happily resettled
A VF Member happily resettled