An informed discussion about refugee issues in the news is welcome, however several points need clarification in The Standard’s article. The story, while providing interesting information on specific crimes, fails to make a clear distinction between ‘South Asian criminals’ and ‘South Asian asylum-seekers’, regrettably bunching both in one damaging misconception. The examples chosen by the reporter to support his views are at best misleading – as he labels everyone “South Asians” – and are further murking the waters of stereotypes and intolerance. The fact that some asylum-seekers are hired by criminals may be true, but what does this say about the asylum process? Could a previously honest individual turn to crime after years of abusive marginalization? What desperate conditions is she forced to endure? What support does he receive in the country of asylum? How can she meet financial obligations when barred from working legally?
The harsh reality is asylum-seekers, after selling food rations and what is salvaged from garbage, are *forced* to offer manpower in the informal economy of 3D jobs. This is the dirty, dangerous and demeaning work that citizens turn their nose on, but needs to be performed for the economy to function efficiently. On occasion these tasks are controlled by triad societies, making the connecting between the world of asylum and the world of crime, that slips into predictable vicious circle. We can’t simplistically blame the supply where there is pernicious demand, especially when such demand is structural and pre-exists the arrival of asylum-seekers. In other words, when a CAT claimant commits a felony, he relieves a domestic gangster from dirtying his hand – the culprits might have changed, but sadly the law would still have been broken. One could argue that South Asian criminals accepting lower-than-local-pay says more about the globalization of crime than lawless asylum-seekers. Similarly the city has witnessed trigger-happy Mainlanders running amok on the streets, yet we don’t equate these with the big-spenders in the malls, though both entered under the same Immigration scheme. The analogy could continue with Thai massage ladies entering on tourist visas and other common abuses of the Immigration Ordinance. To this end, this article is unconvincing in shedding light on the criminality of asylum-seekers in general and South Asian ones in particular.
Moreover, the story’s arguments about asylum abuse are laughable. The evidence does point towards most CAT claimants delaying their case with stalling tactics, like failing to show up, presenting late evidence, calling sick, changing lawyers or phones, etc. However, is this malicious behaviour or a plausible survival strategy? Let’s imagine being in their uncomfortable shoes and facing such bleak prospects. For example, if you were a Tamil Srilankan and were about to be deported to face torture our ImmD doesn’t consider ‘likely’ would you cooperate with procedures? If you were a Pakistani fleeing tribal/Taleban/tyrannical persecution, would you facilitate your return into harm’s way? We might note these individuals are acutely aware every single torture claim of 1,717 was rejected, between Jan 2010 and Apr 2012, leading to immediate deportation procedures. They know there was one success in 2500 cases, which means the odds of success are an unreachable 2500 to 1. Indeed why are we surprised claimants resort to every legal stratagem to delay the inevitable? In substance, many stall their cases, not because they are unfounded (maybe some are), but because the system is flawed and designed to invariably fail everyone. This raises the question: how can 2500 claimants all be liars? Meanwhile, it’s understandable that anyone fearing for her life delays deportation, even if at times such behaviour might be construed as abusing the system. Why should we be surprised that 5.8% of rejected claimants were prosecuted for overstaying or illegally remaining? Rather it’s surprising the percentage isn’t higher with such widespread fear of returning home. Perhaps we might inquire how CIC detention numbers are rising and how many volunteered for repatriation. Predictably, until we see changes in CAT results we won’t see asylum-seekers rushing in to complete interview processes.
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. http://tribunal12.org/