Loopholes mean genuine asylum seekers suffer

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 November, 2010, 12:00am

The government made a belated, but welcome, concession to a court judgment last year, acknowledging it has a duty to give asylum seekers a fair chance to prove they suffer the risk of torture in their home nations. A pilot scheme involving lawyers has now been set up to process applications for recognition under the United Nations' Convention Against Torture (CAT). Successful applicants cannot be deported to their country of origin. But while that move was a significant step forward, questions remain about the legal status of asylum seekers, with several cases at different stages through the courts concerning our city's immigration policies and international obligations. The legal issues are for the court to determine. But whatever the outcome of those cases, the government should tackle the issues head-on.

Either claimants are genuine and their lives at risk, so they require support and protection, or they are merely economic migrants whose claims should be quickly disposed of and dealt with accordingly. The government's lack of a broader policy to deal with successful CAT claimants risks tainting the whole process with a prejudicial assumption that claims are bogus and unlikely to be successful. It may well be that the government's policy is to have no policy in order to deter illegal migrants from arriving on our shores. Given our transport links and reasonably high standard of living, Hong Kong is an attractive destination. But that does not mean we have to leave asylum seekers in legal limbo.

There are still 6,700 outstanding torture claimants in Hong Kong with an average of 170 new claims being received each month, and yet the current system was only able to complete 122 applications in 10 months. The lack of a comprehensive policy allows bogus claimants to abuse loopholes in the system. Whether the claimant is a genuine refugee at risk of torture or not, it is likely that he will be able to stay here for years because of the piecemeal Hong Kong system. This is not only unfair to genuine claimants, but also fails to deter illegal migrants. Whatever the current legal position may be, the government should put in place a broader policy that ensures the needs of genuine asylum seekers are met.