HK a ‘hard place’ for asylum seekers

Jun 20th, 2012 | Media, Refugee Community | Comment

South China Morning Post – Simpson Cheung writes, Jun 20, 2012

The recognition rate of asylum seekers in Hong Kong is unacceptably low compared to Western countries, a local aid group said ahead of World Refugee Day today. The local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said it recognised about 10 per cent of asylum seekers as refugees last year, without giving an exact figure. There were 149 recognised refugees in Hong Kong, and a further 638 awaiting the results of their applications as of last month.

However, Cosmo Beatson, the co-ordinator of Vision First, a local volunteer organisation that provides humanitarian services to UNHCR asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong, said the recognition figure was closer to 3%, and his group had pushed the Hong Kong government to sign the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. It would accord refugees in the city rights similar to those of residents while they await resettlement or local integration.

According to the UNHCR, asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong have access to government-provided humanitarian assistance including basic accommodation, food, clothing and toiletries, as well as reimbursement of petty cash for travelling expenses. In addition, the UNHCR provides HK$300 a month to each. However, even recognised refugees in Hong Kong are not allowed to work and must rely on charity for many of their needs. Only refugee children under 18 can receive education, at the government’s discretion.

“The figure is about 3% and actually tells us that the system is not doing its job,” Beatson said. “The recognition rate is extremely low, to the point that it is almost a joke.” According to recent official figures, the recognition rates for refugees in Britain and Australia, where the ethnic mix of asylum seekers was similar to that of Hong Kong, were 35 per cent and 38.3 per cent. Asylum seekers in Hong Kong face a long screening process with the UNHCR or Immigration Department, which has only accepted one torture claimant since 2008. If accepted as refugees, they must resettle elsewhere, as the city has no legal obligation to grant them residency.

Beatson said that while it was true some applicants lied to authorities to buy time in Hong Kong for economic reasons, the system also screened out genuine applicants who faced torture or even death back in their home countries. Beatson suggested that Hong Kong follow the UK and most European countries and allow asylum seekers to work if their applications are pending for more than six months. A government spokesman said extending the refugee convention to the city could subject it to abuse, given Hong Kong’s developed economy and liberal visa regime.

Vision First runs Hong Kong’s only refugee shelter

Health services documentary

Jun 16th, 2012 | VF updates, programs, events | Comment

Shooting a documentary on the humanitarian work of Dr. Fan Ning (MSFHK president)

UNHCR launches flagship publication on State of the World’s Refugees

May 31st, 2012 | Advocacy, Media | Comment

NEW YORK, United States, 31 May 2012

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warned on Thursday that factors causing mass population flight are growing and over the coming decade more people on the move will become refugees or displaced within their own country. In comments marking the launch in New York of “The State of the World’s Refugees: In Search of Solidarity” (PDF edition) Guterres said displacement from conflict was becoming compounded by a combination of causes, including climate change, population growth, urbanization, food insecurity, water scarcity and resource competition. All these factors are interacting with each other, increasing instability and conflict and forcing people to move. In a world that is becoming smaller and smaller, finding solutions, he said, would need determined international political will. “The world is creating displacement faster than it is producing solutions,” said Guterres. “And this means one thing only: more people trapped in exile over many years, unable to return home, to settle locally, or to move elsewhere. Global displacement is an inherently international problem and, as such, needs international solutions – and by this I mainly mean political solutions.”

Dadaab refugee camp in Northern Kenya


Government response to VF queries

May 17th, 2012 | Advocacy | Comment

Panel on Security (Agenda) 8 May 2012
Meeting on Tuesday, 8 May 2012, at 2:30 pm
in Conference Room 1 of the Legislative Council Complex

Revised agenda as at 4 May 2012

I.Confirmation of minutes of previous meeting

(2:30 pm – 2:35 pm) LC Paper No.  CB(2)1868/11-12
(issued vide LC Paper No. CB(2)1869 /11-12 on 3 May 2012)
Minutes of meeting on 3 January 2012

II.Information paper issued since the last meeting

(2:35 pm – 2:40 pm) LC Paper No. CB(2)1804/11-12(02) (issued on 23 April 2012)
Response to the queries raised by Mr Cosmo BEATSON, Executive Director of Vision First, about the subsidy of the Government to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provided by the Administration

“Hence, there is no question of the Government subsidizing the UNHCR
in Hong Kong or allowing the latter to remit funds overseas”

W H Chow for Secretary for Security

Global Voices

Mar 28th, 2012 | VF updates, programs, events | Comment

Global Voices is a community of more than 500 bloggers and translators around the world who work together to bring you reports from blogs and citizen media everywhere, with emphasis on voices that are not ordinarily heard in international mainstream media. Global Voices seeks to aggregate, curate, and amplify the global conversation online – shining light on places and people other media often ignore. We work to develop tools, institutions and relationships that will help all voices, everywhere, to be heard. At a time when international English-language media ignores many things that are important to large numbers of the world’s citizens, Global Voices aims to redress some of the inequities in media attention by leveraging the power of citizens’ media. We believe in free speech, and in bridging the gulfs that divide people.

The Die is Cast

Mar 27th, 2012 | Media, Refugee Community | Comment

We participated in force at the HKU Rights Talk – organized by the Centre for Comparative and Public Law – with 20 members who were very satisfied with the outcome, which is what counts. Attendance was heavier than anticipated with delegations from HKRAC, ISS, Christian Action, Vine Church, Medecins Sans Frontieres and UNHCR, with Mr. Choosin Ngaotheppitak inevitably taking the hot seat. We believe our presentation took pride of place, further developing a message that broke in 29 January 2012, reaching a forum at Hong Kong University in two months. We had a chance to talk to UNHCR, explaining we represent hundreds of members who trust us to always take their best interest at heart. We still have much to say, but the Easter break is a good time to take stock of achievements and prepare for the next stage – one which must necessarily include HK Government. The panelists debated whether UNHCR is able to meet refugees’ legitimate expectations and whether it needs to rethink its role. It was unanimously agreed the Refugee Convention must be extended to Hong Kong, sooner rather than later. Mr. Choosin admitted, “… probably that may be a good idea if UNHCR is not around …” After the event, Cosmo clarified with him, “This is nothing personal. We appreciate UN polices tie both your hands. The problem is the government constantly raises UNHCR as an excuse to deflect responsibility. So UNHCR is the first domino that must fall in the sake of progress.” The reactions from the audience ranged from the concerned to the outraged at UNHCR’s long and awkward explanations – not an enviable job! There only seem to be two possibilities: either UNHCR’s detachment from reality is complete, or they have no idea what is going on in refugee lives. It’s not worth commenting on comments … so here is the full text – thank you.

“UNHCR: Evolved into irrelevance”                        Transcript of UNHCR comments

Vine Church Tony: Looking at moving things forward in Hong Kong, it would appear that the presence of UNHCR would be preventing this from happening. That it is a deterrent to that. What is the UNHCR’s legal agreement with Hong Kong Government? Would Hong Kong Government feel under pressure if UNHCR withdrew from this process in HK?

UNHCR Choosin: We have the agreement with Hong Kong to implement our mandate. But Hong Kong always emphasises that Hong Kong is not signatory to the Convention, but allow UNHCR to implement its mandate by assisting refugees … and looking for durable solutions for refugees. I don’t know whether … probably that may be a good idea if UNHCR is not around, maybe Hong Kong would take more responsibility. I would hope so. And maybe that would be a good idea to discuss about.


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 …