Not fooled

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 February, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 February, 1999, 12:00am

There has been considerable correspondence on the Immigration Department's controversial move to reduce the visa-free stay of visitors from the Indian sub-continent.

The officials have come out with their usual explanations and claimed the change 'has nothing to do with race or nationality' and that it 'was made primarily on immigration grounds'. Such assertions fool no one.

I have two questions. Would the department care to enlighten us about the 'secondary' grounds for imposing these restrictions and would it provide us data on the total number of arrivals and deported/over-stayed cases from some selected countries - Caucasian and non-Caucasian - to validate its claim of being non-discriminatory? That should not be very difficult to do.

Let me describe my experience with Immigration and Customs over a period of five years.

I am an Indian national working in the finance industry (I moved here from the United States in 1994).

During this period, I have entered Hong Kong about 20 times. On each occasion (save once when I was returning from Singapore) I have been asked to open my baggage.

It did not matter to them from where I was coming. They simply look at my face and make a gesture to step aside and open the bags.

Not only that, their item-by-item search is done with an attitude of open hostility.

In October, 1997, I was returning from Delhi with a a friend on the same flight. Although he is Indian (with a professional background similar to mine), because of his height and skin colour, he can easily pass as a Caucasian.

Not surprisingly, the officer waved him through but stopped me to check my baggage. I would like officers from Customs and the Immigration Department to explain what might have influenced the officer into letting my friend go through but not me.

We were both travelling business class and had similar educational and professional backgrounds. The only difference that I can see is the colour of our skin.

And, this has been the experience of several other Indian friends (all professionals). Racism exists in every society, but Hong Kong is top of the league when it comes to discrimination at the institutional level. It is for the people and Government of the SAR to decide what laws are enacted and how they are enforced. However, it is the height of hypocrisy to hear cries of racism raised when governments in other countries impose such benign measures as language requirements.

Being an Indian (or Filipino) is no fun in Hong Kong; we encounter discrimination and hostility on almost a daily basis. If the SAR Government does not want people of certain ethnic backgrounds, it should solve this problem by simply not issuing visas and/or work permits to such people.

It is better to say no to them and be honest about it than to treat them in such a hostile and/or racist manner.