Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Refugees in Hong Kong

Many of my friends are surprised that there are refugees in Hong Kong. Do you know who they are? Where do they come from? And why they are here?

Most of use know that, years ago, we had a lot of refugees from Vietnam. But they are all gone, or are integrated into the community. The current batch are mostly from South Asia and Africa: Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Congo, Somalia, etc. It should not surprise us since we often hear about religious, political, or other types of conflicts from these places.

They are in Hong Kong because Hong Kong is easy to get into. But most want to go to some other country such as the USA, Australia, Canada, etc. They apply to the United Nations, to be classified as refugees, and wait to be re-located. In the mean time, they are mostly considered to have over-stayed in Hong Kong. The adults cannot work. Their children, for a long time, are not allowed to attend school. With little money and not being able to speak Chinese, they cannot enter good schools even when they are allowed to.

A South Asian father told me he had been waiting in Hong Kong for six years. He was ashamed to have to ask people for money to feed his family. Two others with him had been here for two years. None had been able to work.

Christian Action and some other NGOs have been trying to help them: to find them places to stay, to feed them, to teach them Cantonese and other skills, to organize activities for their children, .... But they don’t even have the money to travel to free activities such as those organized by our team of volunteers.

I cannot judge whether they are bona fide refugees. However, there are not that many of them and their needs are modest. I do understand that the better they are treated here, the more of them will come, and Hong Kong will not be able to cope. But can’t we treat them just a little better, to give people a minimum level of dignity? Who knows that, one day, we will not be the ones needing help from others? In fact, we have been doing exactly that. What did God say to those who has received God’s grace but refuse treat others the same way?


Anonymous said...

Would Christian Action or the NGOs helping these refugees accept donations? Ann

StephenC said...

Yes, they do. You can find out more about Christian Action on their home page at

The donation button is on the lower left of their home page.

The Cat said...

This is from the Hong Kong Standard on December 8th, 2008. Talk about disgraceful!

Screening of refugees `fit for criminals'

Adele Wong

Monday, December 08, 2008

Hong Kong's screening of asylum seekers is similar to the questioning of criminals, according to a human rights group.

"It's a quasi-criminal process," Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre acting co-director Jennifer Stone said.

During the screening, she said, the asylum seeker has to sit on one side of a room divided by a glass wall, fielding questions from a United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees official who sits on the other side.

Oxford University Refugee Studies Centre founder Barbara Harrell- Bond also finds the procedure quite appalling.

She said the asylum seekers, already traumatized by the events they have gone through back home, are subjected to even more unnecessary pain in Hong Kong when they apply for asylum.

"For example, if one has lived a life of rape, and is taken to be just an economic migrant, they may say the wrong things or give the wrong information [which could skew their case]," Harrell-Bond said.

She said things such as rape are hard to confess - and this was especially true of men.

She cited Sudan, where a favorite form of torture is male rape, but many victims will be reluctant to come out and confess about their situation.

Stone, who last year co-founded the center, which relies mainly on volunteers, also deplored that only about 8 percent to 10 percent of about 2,500 asylum seekers are granted refugee status per year in Hong Kong.

"The percentages are much higher in countries like Canada, with about 35 percent, and 30 percent for the United States," she said.

She added that many asylum seekers also get rejected by the UNHCR because they do not represent themselves appropriately in interviews, a shortcoming blamed on the lack of proper legal aid.

"It is appalling that Hong Kong has no provision for legal aid for them," Stone said.

This has made the free legal assistance provided by her organization all the more urgent. "Refugees who receive our assistance get accepted by UNHCR about 48 percent of the time," she said.

The advice center presently handles about 13 full-representation cases and gives summary advice to about 50 clients per month, which is barely meeting the actual demand, according to Stone.

About a year ago, five international law firms decided to dedicate their expertise and manpower to the center.

Managing director Joe Bevash of Latham & Watkins said as of the end of October, his firm had spent 1,000 billable hours and volunteered 10 lawyers to the cause.

"But we're still barely scratching the surface," Stone said.

StephenC said...

Yeah, why can't people treat each other better? Especially when we can afford to.