Why is Immigration targeting Indian refugees?

Sep 23rd, 2015 | Government, Immigration | Comment

Fact 1 – an average of 28 new claims are lodged at border crossings monthly.

Fact 2 – an average of 380 new claims are lodged with Immigration monthly.

Fact 3 – Immigration Press Releases in 2015 overwhelmingly single out Indian refugees.

We are often told in official documents that it is an indication of asylum abuse to apply for protection several months after a refugee arrives in Hong Kong. Now we are similarly made to understand that applying for protection as soon as a claimant arrives in Hong Kong and avails himself of a lawyer is also a possible indication of abuse.

Vision First queries, may the ImmD provide guidelines about what they consider a reasonable time to seek asylum?

Further, Immigration is upset as there are legal representatives assisting refugee upon arrival at Hong Kong border points. So the authorities have in effect lost control over the entry of refugees from the very start. This is a problem for Immigration as in the past refugees could be turned away without anyone knowing and /or they would be locked up in CIC detention without any legal knowledge or assistance. Immigration would then keep them locked up and put pressure on them and in effect fetter their USM claims as lawyers are hampered when asylum seekers are locked up.

Further, Immigration may also be upset at the raising of asylum claims from the start indicates a stronger asylum claim, and the increase in new claims suggests that these claims may not be easily rejected. So in effect Immigration has lost the oppressive controls they utilise over new arrivals. This also threatens a new flood of refugees raising their USM clams on arrival, rather than when arrested.

It is ironic as Immigration has always acted in a manner that has been oppressive and prejudicial to asylum seekers and now this opportunity to abuse is being dramatically removed from them. No one said Immigration would be happy if refugees raised their asylum claims upon arrival. All that the Immigration Appeal Board says is that these claimants are not real refugees as they failed to raise their USM claims at the earliest time. Immigration only used this excuse to rejects USM claims and to call such refugees “illegal immigrants and economic migrants” seeking to take jobs away from local people. Now it cannot be said that easily any more.

ImmD - Six passengers refused permission to land lodge claims for non-refoulement - 22Sep2015

Six asylum seekers claim protection in Hong Kong in a week

Sep 22nd, 2015 | Media | Comment

SCMP - Six asylum seekers claim protection in Hong Kong in a week

Security Bureau response to school fee issue

Sep 21st, 2015 | Advocacy, Government, Schooling | Comment

On 27 July 2015, Vision First wrote to the Security Bureau to request wavers of school fees for refugee children. The problem Vision First identified is that school fees are generally met by the government for those families of refugee background that pass the government means test (and of course all refugee families do as they are prevented from lawfully engage in income-generating activities). However, the subsidies are paid several months after these families are required by schools to pay fees and other expenses. Payment requests are reported to sometimes include threats to expel students.

The Security Bureau implicitly acknowledges the problem in its reply and from next year payments of financial assistance will be disbursed to refugee families no later than October for primary and secondary schools, and as early as September for kindergartens. In this respect, parents are urged to complete applications promptly and follow up with SFAA directly. 

This arrangement is not the more practical and efficient waver system offered by the Hospital Authorities for medical fees. However it is certainly better than funds sometimes reaching refugees in January or March of the following year, leaving cash-strapped refugees with the problem of raising money to pay for the compulsory education of their children. It is advisable for ISS-HK and other NGOs to release SFAA funds to refugee parents without delay to minimize financial hardship and possible embarrassing situations. 

NGOs and good hearted Hong Kong citizens would no longer need to advance money better spent on other purposes if government financial assistance for students were settled directly with the school at the time of enrollment. More advocacy is required on the part of civil society groups concerned with the rights of refugee children. 

Security Bureau response to school fee issue - 7Sep2015

No life, the refugee slums in Hong Kong

Sep 19th, 2015 | Housing, Immigration, Media, Racism, Rejection, Welfare | Comment

The plight of the refugees in Hong Kong, is the consequence of a system that isolates and leaves them in an endless waiting out of sight of the rest of the population in unsanitary slums. About 10,000 refugees live in of Hong Kong, mostly coming from Indian subcontinent, but also from Vietnam, Indonesia or Horn of Africa.

Most of them have fled persecution in their country, hoping to find refuge in Hong Kong. This city isn’t the haven they were hoping for. Hong Kong hasn’t signed the Geneva Convention and gives only a very small number of refugees status. Upon their arrival in Hong Kong, refugees are registered as asylum seeker and their passports are confiscated.

Normally, it takes three years to process their applications, but some are still waiting after eight years and they aren’t allow to work. Refugees have access only to tiny rooms in slums in the New Territories. Initially these slums weren’t made for housing, these are shacks,or former farms built or refurbished by unscrupulous owners.

Photographer: Emmanuel Serna

List of 69 refugee slums exposed by Vision First since March 2013

No life, the refugee slums in Hong Kong

A little empathy goes a long way

Sep 18th, 2015 | Housing, Welfare | Comment

Let us praise ISS-HK for promptly remedying a tense situation.

This week a distressed refugee couple requested our assistance after the ceiling collapsed in their room and they became homeless. The welfare policy for refugees offers a subsidy ($1500 a month) for premises rented directly from landlords through estate agents familiar with the ISS-HK procedure. In this case the couple had renewed the contract in February 2015 and were paying $200 a month on top of $3000 paid by ISS-HK to the landlord.

However, a lack of proper maintenance of the old and dilapidated building in To Kwa Wan caused the partial collapse of the ceiling. Refugees are forced to live in the cheapest rooms, often in the oldest walk-up buildings, if not in slums, where sudden structural damage might puts their lives at risk.

In this case, fortunately the refugee couple was unhurt. The landlord visited briefly, but, unconcerned about the welfare of his tenants, disappeared soon after and disconnected his phone. The couple felt bound by the Tenancy Agreement and was unsure about their obligations towards the landlord. With no money, nowhere to stay and food coupons damaged by the rain, the couple called their ISS-HK case officer for assistance.

The wife reported to Vision First that, on several occasions, she called their case officer asking for assistance. She complained that she was dismissed with remarks to the following effect: “I don’t have time”, “This is your problem, I cannot help you”, “I don’t care about your problem. I have many clients (to assist)”, “I am busy. Don’t come (to ISS-HK office). I will not see you”, “I will not visit (the room) because the building is dangerous”, “If you don’t like it, go back to your country.” After which the ISS-HK case-worker would hang up the phone

With dignity and composure, the wife explained to Vision First that death threats had driven her into exile, as if she needed to justify her vulnerability after being insulted by a professional tasked with and paid for her welfare. She was evidently less distressed by the inability to offer emergency accommodation, than by the crude and unwarranted remark: “Go back to your country!

Vision First raised a complaint with ISS-HK and the same afternoon her case officer called the wife to remedy the situation. The thankful lady reported to Vision First, “My case officer said that she understood my situation and was sorry. She promised to do her best and asked me to collect dried food (emergency rations) and go to the office on Monday. I was very surprised when she gave me her mobile number and asked me to call if I needed anything.”

Irrespective of the inevitable difficulties and frustrations faced in our work, we are reminded that refugees are human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity. The principle that “every asylum claim ought to be approach as genuine until it is proven that it cannot be substantiated by the claimant,” makes any dismissive remark highly unattractive.

It is worth repeating that the High Court directed that, “a refugee claimant deserve sympathy and should not be left in a destitute state during the determination of his status. However, his basic needs such as accommodation, food, clothing and medical care are provided by the Government.”

An African refugee enters a subdivided unit in Hung Hom, unrelated to this blog

Hong Kong citizens are not indifferent to plight of refugees

Sep 17th, 2015 | Immigration, Media | Comment

SCMP - Hong Kong citizens are not indifferent to plight of refugees

We want work, we want dignity

Sep 17th, 2015 | Immigration, Media, Refugee Community, Rejection, Welfare | Comment

Harbour Times - We want work, we want dignity

TVB Evening News on refugee march to EU office

Sep 15th, 2015 | Immigration, Media, Rejection, Welfare | Comment

TVB Evening News on RU march to EU office (12Sep2015)

Hundreds march in Hong Kong for Refugee Solidarity Day

Sep 15th, 2015 | Immigration, Media, Rejection | Comment

Coconuts - Hundreds march in Hong Kong for Refugee Solidarity Day

Hongkongers march to EU office in show of solidarity with refugees

Sep 15th, 2015 | Immigration, Media, Rejection | Comment

HKFP - Hongkongers march to EU office in show of solidarity with refugees