Rights expert condemns city

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 December, 2010, 12:00am

A world expert on refugee rights has condemned the city's lack of a legal framework governing asylum seekers.

Dr Barbara Harrell-Bond, founder of Oxford University's Refugee Studies Centre, was especially critical of the lack of a framework to give children seeking asylum an education. 'Even if the government wants to keep refugees out, unfortunately it can't,' she said. 'Refugees will still come to Hong Kong. The answer is to find a fair and effective way to solve [the problem]; otherwise the outcome will be more tragedy.'

Harrell-Bond, in Hong Kong last month to support calls for legal aid for asylum seekers, said all governments had a duty to provide asylum. She added it was unacceptable for the process to drag on for years, and that there was no proper way to offer an education to school-age asylum seekers.

Setting up a system to handle applications could eventually save the government money, she said, as the flow of claimants was likely to increase and a proper framework could allow the applications to be dealt with more quickly. Legal aid was also very important.

'Refugees have to prove they are refugees, and how do you do this without a lawyer? The success of an application really depends on the subjectivity of the interviewer if no lawyer is present. If the interviewer believes the applicant, they can ask the right questions to help them prove their status.'

A government spokesman said the Education Bureau handled each child on a case-by-case basis. It would ask the Director of Immigration to see if the child in question would leave Hong Kong shortly, he said. 'If not, the Education Bureau will consider the conditions ... and will look for a school place for them.'

Harrell-Bond said asylum seekers in Europe and America were given legal aid; in Britain, NGOs provided such services.

Denial of legal aid was one of the grounds on which the Court of First Instance early this month found the city in breach of its international obligations towards asylum seekers fearing torture if sent home. The Immigration Department said it was reviewing the judgment.

Hong Kong has been criticised for its assessment of those claiming protection after having been tortured in their home countries. Of about 200 claims that have gone through so far, not one has been approved.