Asylum seekers have tough life in HK, says legislator

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 July, 2006, 12:00am

People seeking asylum in Hong Kong have been condemned to a harsh life while their claims are assessed, because the government refuses to adopt an asylum policy, it was claimed yesterday.

Adult claimants are offered about $1,800 a month, comprising around $1,000 for housing and $800 for food. But their children are not entitled to such assistance under government arrangements.

The Social Welfare Department started the assistance programme in May after the local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ended its support to asylum seekers because of budget cuts.

Human rights groups say the scheme is discriminatory and have called on the government to sign the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, popularly known as the Refugee Convention.

Lawmakers are expected to discuss the plight of the 1,600 asylum seekers in Hong Kong at a meeting tomorrow of the Legislative Council security and welfare services panels.

Legislator and Civic Party vice-chairman Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said many people seeking asylum in Hong Kong had ended up being held in immigration detention centres.

'The present policy is just absurd. It could take over two years for an asylum case to be processed. But once a claimant overstays his visa during the wait, he will be treated as an illegal immigrant and will be locked up if he is caught,' said Dr Cheung.

'These people flee because of political suppression in their home countries. But in Hong Kong, they are treated even worse.'