Stuck in HK's bureaucratic purgatory

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 June, 2012, 12:00am


A young African granted refugee status by the United Nations is angry at being denied an education and the right to work in Hong Kong.

Amed (a pseudonym), 23, has been in the city for eight years, but since turning 18, no school has been willing to admit him.

And as a non-permanent resident, he is not allowed to work.

But providing education to refugees would make it easier for them to resettle elsewhere, community organisations say.

For now, Amed is still waiting to be resettled in another country. He has been rejected by the United States and Canada, and has waited a year to hear from France.

As such, he is forced to occupy his time by playing soccer, watching television, or window-shopping because he has no money.

'How is it that I can be in Hong Kong without going to school for eight years?' Amed lamented.

Among 146 UN-recognised refugees in Hong Kong, Amed arrived in the city in 2004 when he was 16 after fleeing a war in his home country, which he refused to name due to security reasons.

Two years later he was granted refugee status, but he has since lost all contact with his family.

When he arrived, Amed was admitted to Delia Memorial School (Hip Wo) on an exceptional basis for an initiation programme by the then Education and Manpower Bureau.

For six months he learned Cantonese and English and showed his talent by winning the most-improved student award. But he says he has since forgotten all the Cantonese.

After the programme ended, he was told the government would not refer students over the age of 18 to schools, and that he would probably be leaving soon.

So Amed personally applied to two schools, but did not hear from them. He also applied for courses ran by the Employee Retraining Board and the Vocational Training Council. But he was rejected because the law forbids him from working.

Eager to learn, Amed thinks the government should provide him with an education.

On his part, he has attended some English classes organised by non-governmental organisations, but he wants to study more advanced courses to improve his future prospects. 'When you are allowed to go to another country, the knowledge you have gained in Hong Kong would make life easier,' he said.

Annie Lin, a community organiser with the Society of Community Organisation, said: 'Those who are recognised as refugees should be allowed to work and young people should be allowed to study.'

Currently, Amed is living in a Caritas shelter and gets HK$300 a month from the UN. The government pays his board and lodging.

In a judicial review last year, the Court of First Instance ruled that the Immigration Department could review whether refugees could work on case-by-case basis.

But no one has been allowed to as yet. The case would be appealed in September, Lin said.

An Immigration Department spokesman says the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees has not been extended to Hong Kong, and the city has no obligation to admit individuals seeking refugee status. He says education assistance is provided to child refugees on compassionate grounds and does not object to adults applying to any school on a self-financing basis.

At the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, a spokesman says the agency would protect refugees awaiting resettlement from being deported.