Clause for concern

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 March, 2011, 12:00am

There are just under 6,000 refugees in Hong Kong, mostly from Africa and South Asia, waiting to be screened by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Hong Kong officials, according to UNHCR.

In an attempt to stem a human tide, the government in 1998 put an end to the city's long-standing policy of first asylum and, in 2008, the legislature passed laws forbidding refugees to work for pay. But because Hong Kong, unlike the mainland, has so far refused to sign the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, many are marooned here for longer than necessary, waiting for UNHCR officials based in the city to determine whether they are bona fide refugees.

A government spokeswoman declined to say when, or if, Hong Kong will honour the UN convention, citing the fact the city's foreign affairs policy is dealt with by Beijing.

'There is a kind of paranoia to the influx of refugees,' says Kelley Loper, a University of Hong Kong law professor, who specialises in refugee rights. 'Part of it has its roots [in] the influx of Vietnamese refugees, which is ironic, because Hong Kong is a society that is made up of refugees.'

According to the UNHCR, in the 1950s and 60s, one in three Hong Kong residents was a refugee from the mainland.