New law denies asylum seekers work

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 November, 2009, 12:00am

About 100 asylum-seeking South Asians staged a protest on Monday against a new law. The law forbids them from working in Hong Kong while waiting for their cases to be processed.

Outside the Legislative Council, they said the law, which took effect on Saturday, was unjust and made it impossible for them to survive in the city.

Since a March court decision involving street vendors who had refugee applications pending, there appeared to be a legal loophole that allowed amnesty seekers to work while their applications were being processed. The government says this has resulted in a surge of refugee applications.

Mohammad Umar, a Pakistani who left his country two years ago, said he had been a delivery worker in Hong Kong but had to stop because he faced a three-year jail penalty. The 28-year-old said he could not return to his country because of the violence and unstable political situation: 'There's no life,' he said. 'It's full of blasts and deaths.'

The protesters, mostly from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, said a monthly cash allowance of HK$1,000 and food worth HK$900 - issued by the International Social Service - was not enough to support them. They said they had to work as well.

Many said they had been in the city for years after lodging claims involving torture with the Immigration Department. The department had failed to screen their claims promptly, said Mohammad Aslam, chairman of the Ethnic Minorities Youth League under the Community Development Network.

Claims of torture are handled by the Immigration Department, while general applications for amnesty are handled by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Amnesty seekers complain of long waits from both agencies, but say the Immigration Department is particularly slow at processing claims. Aslam urged the government to speed up processing of claims made by torture victims if working was to remain illegal.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun agreed.

'[If] asylum seekers are not supposed ... to work, the only way is to let them settle down in another place as soon as possible,' he said.

The Immigration Department said it was processing 6,240 claims involving torture.

This is an edited version of a story that was published in the South China Morning Post on November 17