Asylum seekers in Hong Kong stranded by red tape
Many refugees get stuck in the city for years waiting for verification of their claims, and asylum seekers must go to third countries
Almost half of 25 refugees and asylum seekers interviewed by Hong Kong Shue Yan University have tertiary degrees, according to the institution’s department of social sciences.
Many of them have been stranded in Hong Kong for two to five years, and in one extreme case, a non-refoulement claimant has been stuck in the city for more than 10 years, Dr Flora Lau Pui-yan, assistant professor at the department, told a recent press conference.
Hong Kong does not grant asylum to anyone, nor can any asylum seeker legally take up employment in the city. An applicant will be transferred to a third nation for settlement once his or her claim is vetted and substantiated by the Hong Kong Immigration Department and the United Nations’ refugee agency.
Such people’s living and food expenses during their stay in Hong Kong are covered by government-issued coupons worth around HK$3,000 per month as well as help from local non-governmental organizations.
Favour, who hails from a war-torn country in Central Africa, has a bachelor’s degree and was teaching mathematics at a local school before fleeing to Hong Kong seven years ago, HK01 reports. While her case is being processed, she has tried to settle into Hong Kong society via voluntary community services and taking care of the children of other asylum seekers.
She has also been spearheading a mutual-assistance group for refugees stranded in Hong Kong, while spending much of her time learning Cantonese.
Still, as Favour has found, the Hong Kong government has done little to help refugees and asylum seekers assimilate into the community during a prolonged stay, with some local politicians even suggesting that all refugees must be rounded up and sent to designated camps.
John, a Pakistani Christian victimized by religious persecution, has been an exile in Hong Kong for 16 years since quitting his construction job and fleeing the Islamic nation, according to Apple Daily.
It’s unfortunate that discrimination against refugees is still omnipresent in the city, he says, noting that many locals, having spotted him or anyone of South Asian or African ethnicity, will cover their mouths and avert any physical contact, even in a packed bus.
Dr Lau has called on the Hong Kong government to expedite the verification process as cases continue to pile up, drawing into question some immigration officers’ lack of knowledge of the backgrounds and plights of numerous claimants.
In a reply to media inquiries, the Hong Kong Immigration Department says that it normally takes 15 weeks to process a case, compared with 25 weeks before the procedures were streamlined. There were 7,244 such applications pending verification as of September.