Ban on Nepalese students, workers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 June, 2005, 12:00am

Immigration Department edict appears to be an attempt to stop people fleeing the country and seeking asylum

Nepalese nationals will be banned by the Immigration Department from entering the city as students or workers from Monday in an apparent bid to discourage those fleeing the conflict-ridden country from seeking asylum through Hong Kong.

The department announced yesterday that it would 'cease to accept visa applications from nationals of Nepal wanting to study or take up employment in Hong Kong'. Nepalese nationals will also be required to obtain transit visas if flying via Hong Kong International Airport.

Applications received before Monday will continue to be processed and the new rules will not apply to Nepalese residents already in Hong Kong. Applications for entry as dependants from Nepal and under the Capital Investment Entrant Scheme will continue to be processed.

The 2001 census put the number of Nepalis in Hong Kong at 12,564, but members of the community estimate the number to be between 30,000 and 50,000.

In the absence of an official explanation for the ban, speculation was rife about the reasons behind it. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' Hong Kong office declined to comment but confirmed that there was an increasing number of Nepalese asylum seekers in the city. There are 210 applications for asylum pending from Nepalese nationals.

Hong Kong does not accept refugees but allows asylum seekers to remain here pending their refugee status determination by the UNHCR and until they are resettled elsewhere if recognised as legitimate refugees.

Annie Lin of the Society for Community Organisation said: 'This policy is targeting the Nepalis and is a kind of racial discrimination.'

Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes SC said the new policy would certainly make it more difficult for asylum seekers to seek protection through Hong Kong and although the city did not breach international law, it had to explain the rationale behind the policy.

'I would like to know the basis for this - it is simply not good enough to just state that you will no longer grant visas to people. You have to explain why,' Mr Dykes said.

Amnesty International urged the government not to use its immigration powers and visa restrictions to obstruct asylum seekers' access to procedures for their protection.

Sunil Gurung of the Nepalese Association said it had already become very difficult for Nepalese residents here to get dependant visas for family in Nepal. He said that even before the policy was announced yesterday, study visas had become difficult to get.

Kevin Gurung, officer-in-charge of the Hong Kong Workers Union, said this was 'a great blow to our people, especially those British Gurkhas who have been here for a long time and for whom there is still a lot of demand'.

Ijam Ganesh Kumar of the Hong Kong Nepalese Federation said it was very unfortunate and called for the government to explain the rationale behind the move.

Nepalese Consul-General Hem Lal Sharma Bhattarai said he learned about the ban from a press release on the government website and said the consulate had not received any notice.