Today, the title of the motion we are debating is “combating ‘bogus refugees’”. I find that wording to be disturbing. We are not talking about combating the problem — if any — of the people that are referred to as ‘bogus refugees’, but combating these people themselves. Well, I like to refer to them in a more humane and respectable way, by calling them as they are, that is, asylum-seekers.
Of course, our colleagues in the pro-establishment camp who are in support of these draconian measures targeting the refugees will say that it is only the ‘bogus’ ones that they are targeting, not the real asylum-seekers. Thank you very much. But it is clear to us that many of the measures that they talk about, such as encampment, would be applied to all asylum-seekers.
Such is the hypocrisy and the discrimination in disguise. When our pro-establishment colleagues gleefully talk about Indian and Pakistani people gathering and scaring away local folks, they have not presented any proof that these people are asylum-seekers, so there is no basis at all of making the connection to their worries to the refugee problem. In other words, are some of these local folks simply scared when they see non-Chinese or colored people gathering in their neighborhood? How much of those concerns are justified? How much of that would be cultural misunderstanding, or plain racial discrimination?
While many of our local media seem so eager to cover news linking asylum-seekers to crime, official figures never quite gel. Asylum-seekers committing crimes represent a very small portion of the overall statistics. Some local folks may also think that asylum-seekers are taking away jobs, and many of the pro-establishment political parties like to play up on that. But official figures show that protection claimants represented only 3.4% of the over 6,700 illegal workers arrested last year.
Are there abuse of the system? Absolutely. But how much of these abuses are caused by the system itself? According to human rights workers and lawyers, a big part of the reason of these abuses is due to the government’s delay and lack of training for its personnel in dealing with such bogus claims, which in turn cause more delay in handling the cases, which results in effectively inviting or attracting more bogus claims to come in.
Between March 2014 and December 2015, 3,165 non-refoulement claims have been screened, and only 18 of them were substantiated, including three on appeal. According to reports, the acceptance rate in Hong Kong — which stands at 0.56% since unified screening was introduced, is one of the lowest in the developed world. The global acceptance rate is around 43%.
In contrast, Germany last year screened 60% of 965,000 asylum claims within five months.
The United Nations Committee Against Torture stated that, by denying asylum-seekers the rights to work, Hong Kong forced them to “live on in-kind assistance below the poverty line for long periods of time,” which rights advocates convincingly point to as the cause of more illegal wok and criminal activities.
Many protection claimants have formed a bitter impression that Hong Kong is doing everything possible to get rid of them — and certainly many of our colleagues have reinforced that impression by what they have said in this debate. The constant reports on ‘bogus refugees’ and the kind of messages delivered by some of our esteemed colleagues in this chamber must have made an impact on the morales of the protection claimants in Hong Kong, and made them more distressed about potentially receiving a negative decision.
A couple months ago, after the movie “Snowden” came out, and Edward Snowden of course is the NSA whistleblower who himself sought asylum in Hong Kong in 2013, well, the actor who played Edward Snowden in the movie, Joseph Gordon-Levitt made a YouTube video appeal, and Edward Snowden also made his own appeal on Twitter, for four people they called “Snowden’s Guardian Angels”. Apparently, for two weeks in Hong Kong before he left, Edward Snowden stayed with two refugee couples from Sri Lanka and the Philippines in Hong Kong.
Edward Snowden said: ”These people have gotten up every morning in the face of tragedy and persecution, and go to sleep each night with whole families in a single bed. And though they have nothing, they risked everything to do what is right. Everything that I thought I knew about bravery was nothing compared to what I saw in Hong Kong.” They are not given enough resources to get by, but they are also not allowed to work. If they do work, they face 22 months of prison.
Asylum-seekers are people too. They came here to escape from the horrors back home. While they may be safe from physical danger here, but they fear day and night about being sent back. According to volunteers working with asylum-seekers, many of them said in Hong Kong they live, but they have no life.
This is why I find the original motion and the amendments by our pro-establishment colleagues to be so deplorable with its ignorance of the real root cause of the problem, and the exaggeration in its nature and the fearmongering in its tone. If we dare call ourselves an international city, let’s act like one, and take up our international responsibility and show the world the kindness we offer.