United Nations

Hong Kong should not turn its back on asylum seekers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 December, 2012, 8:47am


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Unlike other places, where asylum seekers still pose great challenges to society, Hong Kong, thankfully, moved on decades ago from being a haven for Vietnamese fleeing political turmoil. Today, refugees and torture claimants do not make headlines as often as they once did. But that does not mean they no longer warrant our care and attention. The truth is that many can barely survive while waiting hopelessly for resettlement. As a responsible global citizen, we should not turn a blind eye to their plight.

The problems faced by asylum seekers were highlighted in the Sunday Morning Post. Even though there are only 132 refugees and 657 pending asylum claims, the applicants are increasingly upset by bureaucracy and limited subsidies. Our government continues to steer clear of refugee screening, leaving the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to do the job despite funding cuts. The recent Appeal Court's ruling against their right to work has added to the woes.

In an interview with the Sunday Morning Post, Philip Karani, the head of the UNHCR in Hong Kong and Macau, encouraged the government to sign the 1951 Refugee Convention and protect refugees' right to work. He rightly pointed out that the city has the capacity and resources to do more. Given our affluence, there is little excuse to shun the calls. Officials should seriously consider taking responsibility for protecting refugees.

Understandably, no government wants to open the floodgates to refugee claimants. But that is no reason to turn away genuine cases. It seems odd for Hong Kong to be a signatory of the convention against torture, but continue to turn its back on refugees. There has been a suggestion that more hopefuls have lost confidence in the commission and switched to the queue for torture claimants. If this is the case, an integrated screening system may be needed.

We take pride in being a humane society with good safeguards for fundamental rights for citizens. The same spirit should apply to those who turn to us for help.