BBC: Ivy League education free on the web

May 16th, 2012 | Advocacy, Media, VF updates, programs, events | Comment

Many school children shed sweat and tears to pursue the privilege of a top university education. But only a lucky few will make the grade and then they will have to fund it. The tech world however is full of visionaries intent on disrupting traditional establishments. BBC Click’s Sumi Das reports on a brand new project which is already causing ripples around the globe as it is making a top notch education available to anyone, anywhere and for free.

“I have waited many years to see something like this that would empower working people, poor people, and isolated ones, to learn at the top level from the best in a more accessible way.”

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Against a culture of suspicion

May 13th, 2012 | Advocacy | Comment

Well-intentioned refugee advocates on occasion employ restrictive categories to distinguish “refugees” from “economic migrants”, as if these two groups weren’t deeply linked. This labeling, made to benefit genuine versus bogus refugees, confuses already murky waters and jeopardizes both refugee and torture claims.

We note that some comments posted on the Hong Kong Refugee Information YouTube Channel are not shared by the refugee community. When watching some videos, refugees lament how bleak their future appears in the light of a mutually exclusive dichotomy that sorts genuine refugees from economic migrants. Their experiences, perspectives, motivations for travelling faraway in search of refuge, should not be simplistically framed within a purported (and futile) contest between two rival groups. Real world situations are more complex than plain labels that define refugees as champions of honesty and economic migrants as scheming abusers.

When reality is fairly appraised, a humanitarian spirit recognizes that any individual has the right to seek refuge for a combination of reason which may also include ECONOMIC DEPRIVATION. There are numerous cases where economic hardship is either inflicted or condoned by states unable/unwilling to prevent it for reasons in the Refuge Convention, namely, race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion. In other words, when oppressive persecution cripples the basic right to livelihood, one is inexorably forced to migrate to survive both physically and economically. Further, every refugee constantly weighs the economic implications of living abroad without resources, painfully aware his survival and his family’s well-being depend on the host country’s financial strength. (i.e. How much will it cost? How will I sustain myself? Will I find work? Can I send money home?) In ultimate analysis, people escape abroad to survive (primary reason) and, by definition, survival in a monetized world include economic decisions (secondary reason). That’s why nobody flees to a country in a worse economic condition than his own!

Moreover, due consideration must be given to the fact most refugees don’t have an academic knowledge of asylum or a procedural grasp of effective refuge application. Consequently, when asked by authorities why they fled abroad, most fail to distinguish economic deprivation from its systemic causes. Thus, on first investigation, they appear to seek economic benefits, but instead their hardship results from persecution according to convention reasons – the symptoms might be economic, but the illness is intolerable oppression. One of our members (incidentally a recognized refugee now) was unceremoniously shipped back to Addis Abeba after telling Immigration, “I come study English.” What he intended was, “I cannot speak English and need to learn your language to tell my story”, perhaps unaware of interpretation.

It is our opinion that refugee advocacy should not blame economic migrants for abusing the refugee system. Instead we ought to be mindful that “economic reasons” and “asylum reasons” are rarely mutually exclusive. Behind an individual’s suffering there is a complex current of social, political, racial, religious, cultural and economic adversity that propels one to seek protection, as well as a better life, abroad. A simple question like “Why aren’t there rich refugees?” underscores the reality that economics always play a part in asylum claims, as affluence is generally a trump card against persecution.

Accordingly, Vision First is against a CULTURE OF SUSPICION that is deep-rooted in Hong Kong and the rest of the world. We believe everyone has the right to seek asylum in another country and have her claim carefully and fairly evaluated. Vision First supports Tribunal 12 in its effort to hold governments accountable for the suffering caused by this culture of suspicion that continually violates the human rights of refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers.

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Our donation flyer reaches CNN

May 8th, 2012 | Advocacy, Personal Experiences, Refugee Community | Comment

Hi  Cosmo,

A friend forwarded an email from you about how Vision First needs donated clothes and household items. I am doing some Spring Cleaning. Would someone be able to come to my building to pick up some donated items? I can have them ready by this Friday or Saturday. I live on Hong Kong Island — very close to an MTR stop. Is there any need for professional work clothes — like ladies’ business jackets?

Let me know — thank you!
Pauline Chiou
CNN International

Here is the flyer that is securing daily donations to our very busy centre – please email it to your friends, thank you! And here is a Press Pack with more information about programs, members and how we grow organically with community support 🙂

VF + Community + Refugee power = SUCCESS

Accountability and transparency – audit 2011

Apr 15th, 2012 | Advocacy, Refugee Community | Comment

Compliance with accounting rules as a registered charity is not sufficient. It’s nothing but a basic prerequisite in a financial environment where audits are essential. The question really is: What does one do with Financial Statements? Vision First is a humanitarian agency grown from, and sustained by, community efforts. We wouldn’t exist without the support of individuals who believe we perform essential duties and are a force for change. Our mission is to relieve refugee hardship by harnessing the generosity and resourcefulness of like-minded citizens. We take the view that ACCOUNTABILITY is an obligation to explain our activities to stakeholders and TRANSPARENCY is an obligation to publish independent, verified statements. Although small by funding and staff, our impact is amplified by a unique connection with those we serve and those who evaluate our performance – our members.

To gauge best practices independent reports are essential and audit scrutiny is best. This is the reason Vision First leads by example in the hope of inspiring change. We are pleased to publish our audit and pledges to do so every year. The document below shows that “Donation Income” increased from 395,444 to 924,697 HKD while “Subsidies to Asylum-Seekers and Refugees” grew from 156,552 to 795,452 HKD spent directly on programs. Our team worked a whole year with operating costs of only 27,522 HKD because zero went to administration fees, rental or salaries. How did we do it? Our operating model is unique. We believe in two fundamental principles that unleash creative thinking while optimizing available resources:

a)     foster community generosity by sharing the “joy of giving”;

b)     it’s a losing battle to “pay one’s way” in this expensive city.

Vision First believes it’s vital for each NGO in our community to unequivocally manifest its values by responding to the legitimate information needs of its stakeholders. It is important that clients, as well as donors, can easily review financials and programs, fundraising and expenses, rents and salaries. This allows the public to verify that donations are used prudently for stated objectives, that the organization is properly managed and – most importantly – that operational priorities match mission statements. Or, in other words, “that we practice what we preach.” Nothing short of this will ensure an NGO attracts new funds, resources and talent for growth in the best interest of society and its beneficiaries.

Greetings from Adelaide

Apr 9th, 2012 | Advocacy | Comment

Dear Vision First Community,

I just want to thank everyone who supported me in many ways, wishing me all the best on my journey from HK back to the Republic of Congo and Kenya. I finally arrived in Adelaide, Australia on the 11 of January. (After 2 months of paperwork, waiting, corruption and several setbacks!) The wonderful Kenny’s family met me here. So far, so good. The family has made sure to choose the right pathway for me to settle in life in Australia. I went to the TAFE orientation dates on the 25-27 of January And I’m going to start school next Monday.  Now I’m at the school dormitory no worry at all. There are foods and essential utilities for a daily life.

My HUGE thanks starting with Peter and Connie Kenny, for the initiative of having me join the College as YES scholarship student (Youth Empowerment Scheme) in 2008.  Through all this, I also know that Jesus loves me very much.  Thanks to Dr. Harry Brown who gave me a brand new MacBook Pro before heading home.  It kept me warm company all way home on the flight. And it has decreased my worries about what was going to happen with me while meeting the HK Immigration on the day of my departure. I cannot cite all of your names, the gifts, that you have donated, your funds, prizes, Prayers of each individuals and Pastor, your time and your effort.  Katherine Bignold thanks for raising this much money for me to study and live in Australia.  Those who have sent their best wishes to help me as a penniless guy, who came to Renaissance College in Ma On Shan, without anything. But you have changed my life in a very short time.

I have overcome so much adversity with the help of lots of fabulous people just like you! I’m very emotional today! Although I have made it to Australia, I know that challenges never end in life. I’ll remain honest with you in the future when I face difficulties here in terms of funds to complete the (RN) Register Nursing Qualification course. As now I’m going to start a programme of Aged Care for six months then, enroll in a Diploma of Nursing for 1.5 years.  All together I will study for two years. If possible I could then go to University to do two more years to have the RN Degree.  I’m sure it will happen and God will provide.

Also, I’d like to say this. The 5th and the 4th floors in the RCHK College you are very powerful offices. I have seen so many things during the six years I have been in HK. I could even write a book in the future. But you all have make these into small issues and helped out. Look how you all have changed my life. Jackie my counselor, although you are not there anymore but you are in my heart all the time thanks so much.  Don you have made a huge positive impact into my life and I’m going to see you soon. Of course, Danielle Stutterd of Vision First in Hong Kong, thanks for so many things! Without missing my English teacher Dee Morgan otherwise I won’t be able to write this much English.

Again, many thanks to the entire Vision First Community!!

All my best,

Understanding Removal Orders

Apr 5th, 2012 | Advocacy | Comment

1.        “Removal Orders” (RO) are issued by the Immigration Department (ImmD) and do not require your signature to become effective. It doesn’t matter whether you sign or not. The RO remains in force until it is either cancelled or withdrawn. The document ImmD asks you to sign is the “Notice of Removal Order and Right of Appeal” (the Notice). This informs you that you have the right to appeal against the RO within 24 hours.

2.      Whether you sign the Notice is not important, but you must appeal within 24 hours by filing the “Notice of Appeal to object to the RO or you may lose the right to seek a judicial review in future. Later you could say “I didn’t know I should have signed” or “I didn’t know that I could have appealed”. But, these excuses won’t be accepted as an interpreter explained the situation and you signed that you understood what was said.

3.       If you don’t appeal, you will lose your right to do so later. If you do appeal, your appeal will be dealt with by the Immigration Tribunal and, in normal circumstances, will be dismissed without a hearing.

4.       If your appeal is dismissed, ImmD will give you a “Notice of Dismissal.

5.       Therefore, strictly speaking, the RO will be in force no matter whether you signed it or not. If you sign the Notice that simply means: a) you understand you have the rights to appeal, b) you have been informed you must do so within 24 hours.

6.       There is no time limit to effect the “removal”.  According to the court, it must be as soon as possible and within a “reasonable period”.

7.       However, as most asylum-seekers made a CAT claim and/or registered with UNHCR, it is ImmD policy not to remove these people until their cases have been determined and closed.

8.       In the past, most asylum-seekers were detained at CIC pending CAT determination. Since the case of “A & Others”, the court obliged ImmD to release claimants on recognizance if they could not be removed within a “reasonable period”. As CAT and UNHCR cases took a long time to assess, the court took the view that people should be released on recognizance (i.e. Immigration Paper) instead of being detained.

9.      However, if ImmD believes CAT and/or UNHCR cases might be completed within a “reasonable period”, they can refuse to release those detained in CIC. This is why some people with valid claims remain in detention and some families are split between release and detention. Recently, many CAT claimants are detained again since they refused to attend the screening interview, or refused to complete the Questionnaire, or failed to sign bail, etc. Note: if you fail to attend two screening interviews or return the completed 72Q within 28 days – your CAT claim will be automatically closed.

10.    It is not only the RO which eliminates the claimant’s rights to work, although those papers are used as a further reminder and deterrent. Even those who don’t have a valid visa, such as tourists or students, cannot work despite not having a RO. Whether you have the rights to work is subject to the condition of stay.

11.   In principle, ImmD cannot use force to remove you.  They cannot tie you up and put you on a plane (or use injections as some rumours circulate).  These are commercial planes with other passengers. If you refuse to board the plane or don’t cooperate, the pilot will refuse you onboard and ask ImmD to take you back. ImmD officers will not escort you back to your country. Besides, destination agreements are required before departure if your passport has expired, which is often the case.

12.   ImmD will then take you back to Ma Tau Kok and CIC later.  A few weeks later, they will try to send you back again. One failed CAT claimants has already been detained 9 months at CIC and still refuses to go back. However, ImmD will refuse to release you unless there is change of circumstances and they consider granting bail (i.e. you have a judicial review challenging the Removal Order or Deportation Order). At this point the RO is proper, unless you already married a HK citizens and have a family, in which case you can apply for a judicial review on other grounds.

13.        When CAT and UNHCR have been refused, it’s difficult to object to a RO. If you have valid reasons, then go to Court for a judicial review by either applying for Legal Aid or representing yourself. According to the law, you have to do this within 3 months from the Petition date. Otherwise you would have to seek an extension out of time, which is more difficult to get approval for. Since both the UNHCR RSD process and the CAT mechanism have taken their course, it is difficult to apply for a judicial review and obtain Legal Aid for its defense.


Asylum: a policy primer

Apr 4th, 2012 | Advocacy | Comment

Dr Matthew Gibney, of the University of Oxford, examines key questions underlying asylum polices, focusing on the challenge of protecting human rights while ensuring that immigration controls are not undermined. The tension is growing in Hong Kong between Immigration and civil society as hundreds of failed CAT claimants are rounded up, detained and served with removal/deportation orders. HK Government closely examines and evaluates UK policy and so should we, considering what lies ahead when Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre (capacity: 400) overfills with former asylum-seekers too scared to be deported home. Let’s find the answers to these questions:
– who is a refugee, asylum seeker or has ‘undetermined status’?
– is asylum a trump card over normal immigration controls?
– what policies do states use to deter and prevent asylum?
– which claimants have strong protection needs (Duty Lawyer Service)?
– what is the ‘asylum gap’ and ‘informal asylum’ (now growing in HK)?
– why have Removal Orders become a strong control tool?
– does the government perspective clash with civil society’s view?


Beach Party for children

Apr 1st, 2012 | Advocacy | Comment

Vision First at HK University

Mar 23rd, 2012 | Advocacy | Comment

Time Out: How we fail our refugees

Mar 18th, 2012 | Advocacy | Comment

The story as downloadable PDF
The story on Time Out website

Along with his wife and three children, Ruwan has not been able to pay the rent for the past two months. Seven years ago, he and his wife fled war-torn Sri Lanka with their first new-born to Hong Kong, seeking asylum. The Hong Kong office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognised his wife and children as refugees – but denied his case because, he says, of his insurgent background. The family rents a flat in Mui Wo, Lantau, for $4,500 a month. Previously, Ruwan’s wife and children, qualified for UNHCR’s assistance, received a monthly allowance of $7,200, including an accommodation subsidy of $1,200 and an additional $1,500 per family member for food and other miscellanies. Yet, even with this allowance, they barely survived. Since then, matters have gotten much, much worse. The UNHCR stopped providing recognised refugees with an accommodation subsidy from January this year, cutting their monthly allowance from $1,500 down to a mere $300. Ruwan’s entire family now survive on a total of $1,200 a month. Although the SAR government has taken the responsibility of providing recognised refugees with food, and an accommodation subsidy of $1,200 (paid directly to the landlord by the government), it is still barely enough to cover the rent. What’s more, to receive groceries, Ruwan’s wife, who suffers from severe back pain, is required to travel several hours to her food supplier in Yau Ma Tei.

“My wife can’t walk for long intervals and she often vomits. Why does she have to suffer? Why am I not allowed to get food for my family?” asks Ruwan. “In Sri Lanka I was tortured physically. Here I’m tortured mentally. They [UNHCR] are splitting my family.” Currently, there are 180 officially recognised refugees residing in Hong Kong and a further 500 UNHCR asylum seekers with their cases under the process of Refugee Status Determination. All are becoming increasingly frustrated by the drastic allowance cut by the UNHCR. “What can I do with only $300 a month? Nothing!” says Aaron, a 28-year-old recognised refugee from Afghanistan. “When I asked why they cut our allowance they said ‘it’s none of your business’.” Aaron was so insulted by the allowance cut, and UNHCR’s attitude, that he simply refused to take the money.

Choosin Ngaotheppitak, head of UNHCR’s Hong Kong and Macau office, tells Time Out that they made this decision because of a budget cut, as well as a new co-operation process with the government. According to Ngaotheppitak, last year the office received an operational budget of US$1 million (HK$7.8m) from the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, while this year the budget has been cut by a further 30 percent to US$700,000 (HK$5.4m). “As soon as we knew about the budget cut, we began to step up conversations with the local government. Finally they agreed to provide assistance to the recognised refugees,” states Ngaotheppitak. Previously, the government-subsidised assistance programme provided subsidies for food, accommodation and other necessities only to asylum seekers and torture claimants. This year, the government started to include recognised refugees into the programme. “The government assistance for refugees is fundamental and sufficient already,” says UNHCR Ngaotheppitak …