Refugees, torture survivors, NGOs and faith groups will march through the centre of HK this Saturday to protest the government’s treatment of torture victims and to call for an urgent review of the screening system for assessing protection claims.
Despite its international obligations, HK has only ever recognised a total of three torture claimants out of 12,400 applications since 1992. 99.98% of claims were rejected, with the victims often being sent back to the horrors they thought they’d escaped. This blanket rejection of practically all applications brings international shame on our city. A city which is exceptionally wealthy and supposedly respects human right.
In 1992, the Hong Kong Government signed up to the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The Immigration Department set up a screening mechanism to assess refugees’ claims under CAT in 2004, which it was forced to enhance in 2009 after it was ruled unfair. Despite procedural improvements, in 20 years, the government has only recognised three claims (one in 2008 after an appeal; another two this year) of 12,400 torture claims since CAT’s inception.
This recognition rate of 0.02% is severely lagging behind that of liberal democracies with similar refugee demographics. Recognition rates for refugees in Australia are higher than 40%. Recent statistics from the UK show a grant rate of 31% and the average throughout the European Union is 25%.
March organiser Vision First, say these results and the effective 0% recognition draw into question the quality of decision-making of immigration officers and appeal court members, as well as the adequacy of legal assistance offered to torture claimants.
The screening mechanism appears to reject the bulk of cases irrespective of their merit, evidence and credibility. This, coupled with ineffective legal representation, leads to hasty rejections which fail the rule of law and, the NGO says, very likely result in some people being sent back to their country of origin to face torture and death.
All refugees in HK are getting a raw deal. This year, the UNHCR budget was cut by 30% with refugees now receiving just $300 a month. Although the government provides $1200 to landlords to accommodate refugees, many are being evicted as they cannot work to help pay high rents.
It is easy to forget that so many Hong Kongers were refugees themselves – up to a million crossed into the territory during the 1950s. They made up a third of the population, yet today’s asylum seekers represent 100th of 1%. Surely, HK – with its vast surplus – can afford to allow these people some justice and dignity.
From the Vision First website, below are some myths about our city’s most vulnerable residents…
Myth 1: Refugees are a burden to our society! Tell me why I should help!
Fact: Refugees are victims of persecution and violence. In Hong Kong, very seldom do we make distinction between refugees and economic migrants. Refugees are seeking asylum: a freedom from persecution, violence, or death. Yes, they seek a place to be safe for their lives. Refugee cannot return to their countries, as they usually have left with very little belongings, and often have had no chance to have farewell to their friends and family. Economic migrants, however, may return whenever they want.
Myth 2: Refugees cannot possibly contribute anything to us.
Fact: It is a myth that all refugees are illiterate peasants. Although most seem to be poor and penniless, this is the result of them having had no chance to pack their belongings or sufficient money, as they often had to leave their home countries abruptly and out of emergency. Quite the contrary, refugees who fled their own countries 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.
Myth 3: Why do we care about refugees? We have our own problems here!
Fact: True, but most of us do not have to 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 the destination themselves.
Myth 4: Refugees have no right to come here and expect us to help them.
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 we are lucky, that we are born in a country free from war and violence, and we have a moral right to protect them.
Myth 5: If we let one in, they will come in floods.
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, say, for example Canada. 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 wherewithal and inclination to make the 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. If so, those in genuine need of protection will be protected, and those whose claims are without merit can be returned to their countries of origin without delay with a “message” to others that Hong Kong is not a “free port” for making fortune unless they are genuine 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 i.e. there must be presumption of a genuine claim until it is determined to be otherwise, not presumption that the person is rotting the system.
Can’t make the march? Donate here…
- Vision First and FB page
- HK Refugee Advice Centre
- Christian Action - has a centre in Chungking Mansions.
- Seeking Refuge.hk
- Time Out report
- Wikipedia – Refugees in Hong Kong