Debunking myths

Hong Kong prides itself on being a fair and caring society. We strive to provide equal opportunities for all and offer protection to those who cannot take care of themselves. But our safety net for the underprivileged and vulnerable has often been criticised as being too narrow, and the plight of refugees stranded in the city is a clear example.


It is in the public interest that refugees, like other underprivileged groups, are given adequate support and are able to live with dignity while awaiting determination of their claims. Hong Kong needs better strategies to make it a truly fair and just society. We can all play a bigger role by understanding why the persecuted seek refuge in our city, a place known for its rule of law and respect for human rights.


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Fact: Refugees are victims of persecution and violence. Very seldom do we make distinction between refugees and economic migrants in Hong Kong. Refugees are seeking asylum: sanctuary from persecution, violence, or death. Yes, they seek a place to be safe for their lives. Refugees cannot return to their countries, as they usually have left with very little belongings, and often have had no chance to say goodbye to friends and family. Economic migrants, however, may return whenever they want.


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Fact: Few refugees are illiterate peasants. Although most seem to be poor and penniless, this is the result of them having had no chance to pack belongings or sufficient money. Many had to leave their home countries abruptly and in an emergency. Refugees are often educated middle-class people – whose education, profession or political opinions have drawn them to the attention of the authorities and resulted in their persecution.


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Fact: True, but most of us have not run away from our home because of fear for our life. Indeed, when we go camping, or leave Hong Kong, we can come home after the weekend. Refugees flee their home countries because they have nowhere else they can turn to. More often, they do not choose their destination themselves.


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Fact: Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries freedom from persecution”. It is an accident of birth and sheer good fortune that we were born in a country free from war and violence, and we have a moral right to protect those less fortunate.


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Fact: There is also an erroneous perception in the mind of the public that everyone in the world wants to come to Hong Kong and seek a fortune. We are little known in the total scheme of things and far less of an incentive than Canada, for example. It may be that asylum seekers will keep seeking refuge in Hong Kong, but there is no reason to believe that there will be floods of people with the resources and motivation to make the high-risk journey by irregular means.


The best way for Hong Kong to deal with asylum seekers is to adopt a Refugee Status Determination system that processes asylum claims fairly and expeditiously. This would protect those in genuine need of protection, and those whose claims are without merit can be returned to their countries of origin without delay, sending the message that Hong Kong is not a free port for false asylum seekers.


One of the things that is important to recognize in this debate is that any response a country makes must protect those in genuine need of protection. There must be a presumption of a genuine claim until it is determined to be otherwise, not a presumption that leaves a person rotting the system.