I have been a refugee in Hong Kong for more than ten years. I struggle to survive with my family without the right to work. I beg for assistance here and there. I suffer discrimination daily because of government policies that turn society against refugees and poison local minds. I will not be defeated.
Since 2013 there has been a steady shift towards empowerment, countering a decade of suppression during which some people wanted to touch our minds and make us sleep. They told us to keep quiet and trust they worked for us. Today many refugees are speaking up for their rights. I welcome this change because nobody can fight and stand for refugees better than we can together.
Only we refugees know our suffering, the agony of years wasted without hope and without future. We need to take the first steps and mobilize before support will come from right and left. The changes we witnessed in the last two years did not come without struggle, protest and demands.
Dear Refugees, we can no longer sit and expect NGOs to perform on our behalf, because their actions are limited by different concerns that ours. We need to have courage and stand for our rights. We must take our destiny in our hands and push for the change we demand for ourselves and our children.
Hong Kong government encourages NGOs to calm down the tension of refugees, so that Immigration can conduct unfair justice and psychologically damage our hearts and discourage us from seeking asylum. How many brothers and sisters were threatened in CIC until they gave up and left? How many refugees were told they were not welcome?
Dear Brothers and Sisters, no one can feel the pain we suffer, not even the doctors who want to cure us. They may guess how much we are suffering, but they cannot feel our pain. People can say “I understand you”, but they do not. Only you know the pain inside your heart.
To be a refugee is not a crime as government propaganda repeats. Refugees are people who are forced to flee their country due to persecution, whether on an individual basis, or as part of a mass exodus following political, religious or military problems. Anyone can end up in our shoes and millions have through human history.
Action is needed today, not tomorrow. Let us come together as one for a better future.
On 17 November 2015, at a hearing of the United Nations Committee against Torture in Geneva, Hong Kong Government’s permanent Secretary for Security put on record the impeccably crafted Unified Screening Mechanism (USM) with assurances that “this mechanism has exceeded what is required under Article 3 of the Convention (against Torture).”
Mr. Law stated eloquently that Hong Kong “has always strived to protect human rights and fulfill the requirements and commitments under the Convention against Torture … and other international human rights instruments that are applicable to the HKSAR”.
Mr. Law showcased the comprehensive services offered by Hong Kong Government, including: “… accommodation, food, clothing, other basic necessities, transportation and utilities allowances, medical services and education for minors … rental deposits and property agent fees”. Further he added that: “In 2015 we introduced food coupons in lieu of the provision of in-kind food assistance”.
The report paints an attractive picture hard to fault from the distant Swiss mountains. Let us summarize the extensive arrangements provided free-of-charge to (lucky?) refugees in Hong Kong:
- Human rights? … Yes
- Publicly funded legal assistance? … Yes
- Interpretation services? … Yes
- Independent appeal mechanism? … Yes
- Training of all decision-makers? … Yes
- Accommodation? … Yes
- Rental deposits? … Yes
- Property agent fees? … Yes
- Food coupons? … Yes
- Clothing? … Yes
- Transportation? … Yes
- Utilities allowance? … Yes
- Medical services? … Yes
- Education for minors? … Yes
The devil however is in the detail. The range of the above 14 services masks structural failures that the authorities are plainly uninterested to address. The complexity of the USM comes at the expense of protection and the variety of humanitarian assistance sacrifices tangible welfare, as in reality hardly a service meets the basic needs of refugees.
The faults of the system are well known to attentive readers and not worth repeating to those who are indifferent, apathetic or unconcerned that Hong Kong Government fails to meet its constitutional duties towards the refugee community. Vision First is alarmed that the policies and behaviour of the government are not consistent with its promise to safeguard refugee rights and ensure their wellbeing.
Facts speak for themselves: 37 claims were substantiated since 1992 among over 18,000 bids for asylum; public lawyers and appeal board appear comfortable with the acceptance rate; refugee slums were systematically erected in animal farms financed by tax-dollars; rental deposits and property agent fees were introduce to address such illegality; refugee protested for 200 days before problematic food rations were reluctantly replaced by food coupons. The list goes on …
How many medical prescriptions issued to refugees include Panadol? How many refugees received clothing and shoes or pots and pans from the government? How much do refugees spend to top up insufficient rent and utilities? How much food, clothing daily necessities do refugees buy without being allowed to work? How many education and medical costs are refugees forced to pay with cash they cannot earn? The questions are endless …
Vision First appraises inconsistencies of this magnitude as unjust, hypocritical and shameful for an international city that wishes to be perceived as fair, sophisticated and respectful of human rights and the dignity of every man, woman and child who lives here – which is integral to our humanity.
Hello, this is Outsider. I’m writing again because I find that the article published by The Standard on 5 October 2015 is misleading, as it mixes up the issues of seeking asylum and seeking employment. The reporter writes about dodgy agencies in India that promise work though asylum visas. The featured website claims, “Hong Kong Asylum Visa.”
As a refugee I am deeply disappointed with the government propaganda broadcasted by the media reporting illegal activities by refugees who are then called indistinctly: illegal immigrants, criminals, job seekers and abusers of the asylum system. The Immigration Department is always ready to make press releases when it arrests claimants working (link).
Some people consider the above to be true. Some people get angry and try to advocate and defend refugees. In interviews, journalists should ask more revealing questions. For example, they should ask: Why are some refugees forced to work? Why do some refugees commit crimes? Why do some refugees get involved with drugs? I hear many advocates answer with reasons about the lack of government assistance, including the biggest problem: high rents in Hong Kong.
It seems to me that many fail to grasp the bigger picture. Is it possible that the wrong questions are asked and the wrong answers given? There is no doubt that government propaganda is winning the day, by shifting the focus on a small minority of refugee caught breaking the law.
But are we the real problem? Would the problem be solved and the debate end, if no refugee ever committed a crime (NB: working illegally is criminalized)? Are refugees the root of the problem, or is the system a problem? Is stopping refugees from working and committing crimes the answer to wasting hundreds of millions of dollars in the failed welfare/legal system?
To repeat, working illegally, committing crimes, joining gangs and pushing drugs are the external, visible symptoms of the illness which is the failed USM and welfare system. The real question is why journalists are not researching and reporting on the failed USM and the welfare/legal ramifications?
Is it possible to heal the illness by just treating the symptoms? Can the truth be uncovered by asking the wrong questions? What are the underlying problems that government propaganda is avoiding?
People who wish to understand the big picture might ask: Why did two thousand Vietnamese who were working illegally, recently applied for asylum? Why are criminals and drug dealers masquerading as refugees? Why are dodgy employment agency offering “Asylum Visas”?
There is a subtle difference between asking these two questions: 1) Why are refugees working and 2) Why are illegal workers claiming asylum? For uncritical readers it is a question of semantics. For the government it demonizes refugees. For some citizens it is proof of abuse. For a refugee fleeing persecution, the difference is life and death and an unbearable life in Hong Kong.
It appears that the government is astutely orchestrating propaganda to cast refugees in a bad light and turn public opinion against the refugee community. I am worried that the constant negative reporting and Immigration press releases are brainwashing the public and generating a ‘push back’ sentiment that will unfairly harm refugees stuck in this hostile city. The article below should be titled “Twenty-two immigration offenders arrested – as 37 refugees offered protection out of 17,000 claimants since 1992”.
It is reproachable that at times persons whose opinions might be esteemed, and should thus carefully word and base statements on facts, cast judgments that verge on xenophobic intolerance, contrary to the best interest of Hong Kong. As a commentator in a local newspaper recently observed, “We often say we want to be a world Asian city, but we behave like a village”.
One example is Mr. Fung Keung’s op-ed published on 8 October in the China Daily, which contains several mistakes to say the least.
First, a rise of arrested asylum seekers from 683 to 904 in a three-year span is hardly indicative of a crime surge when contemporaneously asylum applications increased several folds to over 10,000. Comparatively, it could be argued that the crime rate among asylum seekers has decreased over the period, and indeed is quite low given that many work to support themselves. It is notorious that welfare assistance for asylum seekers is insufficient to make ends meet.
Second, that asylum seekers are arrested for crimes other than working illegally to a larger extent than before may not necessary show that asylum seekers are turning to violence. Rather it may be dependent on which crimes and who is policed in society, and related priorities of law enforcement.
Third, Fung hints that the victims “are believed to be Hong Kong citizens” and asylum seekers should not be accepted in Hong Kong because the city owes them nothing. Rather asylum seekers, when compared to Singapore, make Hong Kong dirty and unsafe, hurting citizens who would otherwise live in a peaceful environment.
Overlooking for a moment international and domestic legal obligations towards refugees, Vision First queries, does Fung really think that local citizens do not commit crimes? Who does Fung think are the employers and recruiters of asylum seekers? Who does Fung believe are the people whose behavior is learnt and with whom connections are made in local prisons by asylum seekers? Perhaps an overview of police charts would have helped Fung formulate more accurate opinions.
Fourth, it is arguable that asylum seekers borrow money from their smugglers, leaving them no choice but to commit crimes to repay such debts. This would certainly be a situation akin to trafficking, in which case Fung should be concerned of Hong Kong responsibilities in setting up a policy framework that tolerates such circumstances. In reality, research supports conclusions quite opposite to Fung’s intolerant views. Vision First would certainly appreciate if Fung agreed to disclose the research he conducted to ground such opinions. A rapid search online did not produce satisfactory results.
Fifth, Fung argues that it is “common sense” that “tells us that religious and political persecution in these countries is extremely rare”. Vision First cannot but query if the same “common sense” is used by immigration officers and adjudicator when screening asylum seekers. The increasing number of rejections being quashed by court judges, often for failure to fully appraise country of origin information, would certainly call for a revision of such unhelpful “common sense”.