UN agency depriving asylum seekers of their rights, group claims

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 September, 2007, 12:00am

Asylum seekers applying for refuge in Hong Kong have been deprived of their right to have their status certified because of maladministration at the local United Nations office in charge of refugees, a human rights group claimed yesterday.

The Society for Community Organisation (Soco) also claimed the Hong Kong office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was breaching its own guidelines in handling asylum cases.

Soco is writing to the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, appealing for it to intervene because the UNHCR Hong Kong office has stopped issuing asylum seeker certificates to applicants.

The certificates, which are valid for a specific period, contain personal details and a picture of the asylum seeker and state that the holder should be protected from forcible repatriation pending a final decision on refugee status.

Since February, the office has instead issued each asylum seeker an 'appointment slip' which only contains a case number and the time and date of an unspecified appointment.

The slip does not contain any explicit information that the holder is an asylum seeker. It does not carry the name or picture of the slip holders, nor any indication the document is issued by the UNHCR.

The slip is supposed to serve as a reminder for the asylum seeker, who is required to report back to the UNHCR office on the specified date.

'How can you prove your identity with such a slip?' Soco community organiser Annie Lin said. 'The asylum seekers would be in deep trouble if they were stopped by police.'

She said the practice was in breach of UNHCR guidelines and urged the agency to stop it immediately, and resume issuing asylum seeker certificates.

According to Article 27 of the UN Refugee Convention, identity papers should be issued to any refugee who does not possess a valid travel document. The UNHCR has also issued guidelines stating that asylum seeker certificates should be issued to all registered applicants.

One asylum seeker, 30, who landed in Hong Kong in January last year after fleeing his Central African homeland said he was once detained for 19 days because police and immigration officers were not satisfied the slip could prove his identity.

Paper chase

The UNHCR's Hong Kong office has stopped issuing status certificates for asylum seekers, making it difficult for them to prove their identities

The number of asylum seekers that Soco says could be affected by the new practice is: 2,500