Hong Kong’s asylum system is in urgent need of repair
A review is needed to cut the incidence of abuse and speed up the handling of genuine cases
News of moves to tighten entry to Hong Kong for Indians just when Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was leading a business investment mission to New Delhi could have been better timed. But the plan reflects legitimate concerns about organised illegal immigration and bogus claims for asylum. These were underlined soon after by the arrests of two members of a local hockey club, both of Indian descent, who had invited an Indian hockey team to the city. Seven members overstayed and lodged asylum claims.
The Security Bureau plans to require all visitors from the main countries of origin of asylum seekers – Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia – to apply for a permit online before flying to Hong Kong. The long-established, 55,000-strong local Indian community has queried the fairness of being singled out for restriction on their visa-free access when the city benefitted from 500,000 visitors from their country last year. They suggested, sensibly, that fixing a broken system for dealing with asylum seekers might be a more effective solution in the long run.
Asylum seekers fleeing fear of torture and other mistreatment wait years in Hong Kong for their claims to be assessed. They cannot work legally and are entitled only to a token government handout. Nearly 11,000 officially languish in this limbo. But this is no deterrent. Many pay organised immigration rackets to exploit legal loopholes that allow them to stay for years. They often end up as cheap labour in the black economy – perhaps still a better life, or they turn to crime.
Last month, the chief executive announced a review of the handling of asylum claims, targeted at overstayers. Ironically, there are fears any suggestion that it could become more difficult to get here or submit an asylum claim could spark an influx to beat the changes. Sadly, abuse of the system only prejudices community perceptions of genuine applicants. It is believed the review can cut the incidence of abuse, which is necessary if there is to be quicker handling of genuine cases.