It's time for HK to rethink blacklist
It seems everyone is enamoured by lists that categorise and stereotype. From the annual Forbes list of the world's richest people to the weekly lists of best-selling books, movies, diets and even holiday destinations, there is something for everybody. A world without a top-10 roll of honour would be unthinkable.
By and large these lists are harmless. But sometimes they can create problems, like in the case of Afghanistan's national cricket team, who have been barred from playing at this October's Hong Kong Sixes after a request from the Hong Kong Cricket Association for visas was denied.
This is because Afghanistan falls into a list of countries whose athletes are refused employment visas by the Hong Kong Immigration Department, which has to get clearance from the Security Bureau.
So if you are an athlete from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, Nepal or Vietnam, you have virtually no chance of playing for country and flag in Hong Kong.
According to the powers that be, the reasons behind this policy are manifold, taking into account factors like 'security considerations, economic, social and cultural ties with Hong Kong as well as individual circumstances of the country'.
The poor, it seems, have no place on our shores, and that accounts for the economic factor as well as the individual circumstances of the country. As far as social and cultural ties go, how can there be any when you effectively bar interaction? So we guess the real reason must be security considerations.
This reminds us of George W. Bush's 'Axis of Evil' - the term that was used in 2002, to describe Iran, Iraq and North Korea, countries the former US president accused of fostering terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction.
We bring up this 'Axis of Evil' example simply because it seems our government, too, is xenophobic. At first glance, we feel the Immigration Department has taken the stance that Afghanistan must be full of terrorists. That is exactly the reaction we received from the shocked chief executive officer of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, Nasimullah Danish, who didn't mince his words as he condemned the stance taken by Hong Kong's gatekeepers.
Danish asked: 'Do the Hong Kong officials think that our cricketers are terrorists or suicide bombers?'
We echo these same sentiments. Shouldn't every case be taken on its individual merits?
Afghanistan are the fastest-rising stars on the international cricket scene. From being a rag-tag band of players who learned the game in refugee camps in Pakistan a decade ago, the Afghanistan national team have now got one-day international status, have qualified for the past two Twenty20 World Cups, and are a worldwide media drawcard.
This latter quality is what the organisers of the Sixes had hoped to cash in on as they carry on efforts to make the showpiece even more popular internationally. And the Afghan team with their Cinderella-like charms, were perfectly poised to give the 2012 tournament a huge boost.
As Danish pointed out, the team have travelled the world in the past few years, to a total of 16 countries including the United Kingdom, China and Canada. Perhaps it is time for the Immigration Department to have a rethink of its policies.
It's been done before. We have seen athletes from Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam compete in Hong Kong in recent years. The Cuban women's volleyball team took part five years ago in the FIVB World Grand Prix at the Coliseum. North Korean female long distance runners have taken part in the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon. Vietnamese football team Song Lam Nghe An visited Hong Kong earlier this month to play against Hong Kong's Kitchee in the AFC Cup.
While the Vietnamese were allowed entry as they were taking part in a regional competition - and had received clearance from the Security Bureau - we understand that in the case of Cuba and North Korea, their passage to Hong Kong was paved by authorities in Beijing. The Cuban women's team had stopped over first in China and as such had got visas for the mainland as well as Hong Kong. The North Korean runners had to fly via the mainland as there are no direct flights to Hong Kong from Pyongyang so they, too, had applied to Beijing first, and by extension Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Sixes officials have said they will press the Immigration Department to change its stance on Afghanistan. If it fails, perhaps we should ask Afghanistan to come via China. That might work.