kevin sinclair's hong kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2006, 12:00am

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has deftly trapped Hong Kong in an impossible moral position. By blandly claiming it can no longer pay to carry out its responsibilities, the commission ensnares us as reluctant host of people seeking sanctuary from brutal and murderous regimes.

It's a skulking evasion of its own responsibility. The UNHCR is trying to unload the woes of the world onto our shoulders. There's a fair chance they will succeed; they've done it before. They are trying once again to make us the unpaid haven for the world's most desperate people. We should not let them get away with it.

The pawns in this move are largely decent, honest and honourable people trying to escape the clutches of despots and homicidal thugs. They come from places like the appalling murder states of Africa or the deadly vale of Nepal.

Flying into Hong Kong on tourist visas, they have no intention of going home. They want resettlement in the western world. Until they are accepted, they are our problem.

These are the unwanted debris of failed regimes or tragic human flotsam tossed up by vicious civil wars. I have talked to many of them. They include people whose claim to political asylum is undoubtedly genuine. But those now registered here include sham refugees understandably seeking escape from economic misery and misrule.

We send illegal immigrants back to China; dubious claimants from Africa, the Arab world and South Asia certainly have no more realistic claim to remain here. Once again, as happened during the two decades that we played generous but reluctant host to Vietnamese, the United Nations is playing us for suckers.

The UNHCR chief here, Monique Sokhan, announced last week she would stop all financial support for asylum seekers in Hong Kong. She blamed worldwide donor fatigue. She wants Hong Kong to pick up the tab and the moral duty of looking after people the rest of the world ignores.

She says it costs 100 times more to support an asylum seeker here than it does in Africa. The instant response to this, of course, is to suggest she shepherds them back to that continent and looks after them there.

Ms Sokhan is quoted as saying she can 'no longer justify running an operation where the country has the means to care for asylum seekers and refugees but chooses not to'.

Do you mean us, Ms Sokhan? Do you refer to Hong Kong? Well, I've got news for you; we're not a country. We are a city in south China. Please take your complaints to the Foreign Ministry in Beijing.

Her statement is interesting. It means the rest of the planet, members of the United Nations, can freely opt out of looking after asylum seekers while Father Christmas in Hong Kong, which is not a UN member, carries the can.

No thank you, Ms Sokhan. We've been there, done that, and have no intention of staging a repeat performance.

The international clique of pickpockets known as the UNHCR has robbed us before. In round terms, between 1975 and 1997 Hong Kong shelled out about $9 billion dollars to care for 220,000 Vietnamese. This dishonest agency has for a decade owed us a fortune. They are into us for $1.16 billion. The last time they paid a cent of this debt was a paltry $3.9 million they coughed up in 1998. Now they blithely want us to dig deep again.

The reality is stark. If we are sufficiently stupid to agree to the UNHCR plea and pay asylum seekers the same rates as we give to Hongkongers on public assistance, it will be a trumpet call that echoes instantly around the planet. Within a week, planes heading to Chek Lap Kok will be carrying people eager to escape the clutches of such monstrous regimes as those that misrule Zimbabwe or Somalia.

Most will be good people. They are not our responsibility. Once here, however, we are saddled with them. They arrive as tourists, go to the UNHCR office and register as political refugees. If the UN decides they qualify, they remain. The people who decide they can stay will not pay their living costs and demand that we do so.

This is rather like a stranger coming to Hong Kong and being told by someone he meets in a pub that he is welcome to go to live in your home, without you being consulted, and that you pay for his keep and give him spending money.

Thanks a lot, Ms Sokhan. But no thanks.