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Asylum seekers in Asia

Why Hong Kong should send back ‘asylum’ seekers from India

N. Balakrishnan says while the government can, in good conscience, deny entry to those falsely claiming persecution and seeking a way out of poverty, it must also stop harassing Indian visitors who come here legitimately

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2016, 4:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2016, 4:59pm

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of India can immediately see that Indians arriving in Hong Kong to seek “political asylum” are engaged in a scam. It is true that large numbers live in poverty but as far as political and personal freedoms go, Indians are not deprived in the fair sense of the word.

In fact, many Indians and foreigners argue that India’s poverty is the result of granting civil liberties and freedoms too early in its economic development history, freedoms which have become available only recently in much richer East Asian countries such as South Korea and Taiwan.

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In a large country of more than a billion people, there are bound to be individuals and groups who feel they are not treated fairly. This is true of even the US, and there are already reports that a small number of Americans are preparing to migrate to Canada should Donald Trump be elected president in November. This does not mean that an American landing in Hong Kong next year seeking “political asylum” should be provided refuge.

The asylum law is there to protect against political, religious or other forms of persecution for their beliefs, not for fleeing poverty. Under these criteria, there is no case for Hong Kong to entertain asylum requests from Indians.

Why are Indians being targeted in Hong Kong’s crackdown on illegal immigration?

India’s poverty is epic. The nation has more poor people than the entire population of the US. What is even worse is that the social indicators of poverty, such as nutrition, children’s height and education, are even worse than in poorer countries in sub-Saharan Africa. There are historical and cultural reasons for this shameful state of affairs, which mercifully is changing, albeit slowly. Hundreds of millions will remain poor in India for decades to come.

When it comes to personal liberties, India has a very good record

But the asylum policy is about persecution. And, when it comes to personal liberties, India has a very good record. It holds regular elections arranged by an independent Election Commission using electronic voting machines across the country, a feat not matched by most developing and even some developed countries. The current prime minister comes from a family that used to sell tea in a train station and the previous incumbent comes from the Sikh community, who make up less than 2 per cent of the population.

Of course, like minorities everywhere, those in India have complaints, some valid. Muslims are the biggest minority and they face discrimination. However, India is not the only place where Muslims face such problems, as reports from the US and Europe show. Besides, India has had two Muslim presidents and Muslim names can be found among the richest five Indians.

Under Indian law, Muslims can follow their own laws, which allow for such things as marrying four women and not giving women a fair share of an inheritance – practices which are forbidden in many Muslim-majority countries. The Muslim population of India is growing in both absolute and relative terms to that of the majority Hindu population. Life for Muslims, like that for the majority of Indians, is tough but is not tough enough for them to claim “asylum”.

As for Christians, the church is the second largest landlords in India after the government. The Christian church manages and controls some of the most prestigious educational institutions. And Indian law guarantees that it can give preference to members of its own “communities” in admission to these institutions, a practice not allowed in most of “Christian” Europe.

As far as ideological views go, India has three large communist parties. It was one of the first countries in the world to elect a communist party government in state elections, in 1957. Throughout the cold war, communist parties in India continued to operate legally and controlled state governments for decades, whereas in most of East and Southeast Asia, they were banned and had to operate underground. There are also areas, such as Punjab and Kashmir, where separatist movements are supported by a minority and who have a vociferous diaspora of supporters abroad.

In short, it is difficult to make a case that anyone in India is politically oppressed. Those turning up in Hong Kong are clearly engaged in an organised racket to seek employment. The current “asylum” racket is well documented and organised by an unscrupulous cabal of lawyers who are gaming the system for their own monetary gains, rather than any sympathy for “asylum” seekers.

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Unfortunately, there are innocent victims in all this – the legitimate Indian tourists and travellers, half a million every year, who visit Hong Kong. Hamstrung by treaty obligations from sending back “asylum seekers”, the Hong Kong immigration authorities are harassing legitimate Indian visitors.

Europeans are already considering changing their post-second-world-war asylum laws, given the current refugee crisis.

The US has institutionalised its refugee policy on ideological grounds and has no room for purely “economic” migrants. For example, all refugees from Cuba are given immediate asylum but refugees from Haiti are turned back immediately, in spite of the fact that it is the poorest country in the American hemisphere.

Given the way refugee laws are practised elsewhere, and the acceptable political freedoms prevailing in India, the Hong Kong government can, in good conscience, turn back Indian asylum seekers. There is no reason why India should object, since the main intention of these people is to prove that India is a repressive country, which it is not. India is not likely to punish any of them. India’s courts have even refused to punish those who arranged meetings in government-funded universities to call for the break-up of the republic.

According to reports, the Hong Kong government has been trying to get the Indian government to stem the flow “at source”. This is unlikely to work. India is a “soft” state, where all sorts of insurgents demand “rights”. The Indian government can hardly control its own borders; millions of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh seep in every year. Controlling the “travel agencies” in India that are engaged in the “asylum” tourism to Hong Kong is not likely to be a priority for Indian government agencies facing enormous challenges on multiple fronts.

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Thus, Hong Kong should send Indians back home, safe in the knowledge that they will not be punished on return. In return, the immigration authorities here should stop treating legitimate Indian visitors as potential criminals.

While India remains a poor country, it punches above its weight in IT services and has the fourth largest number of “start-up” companies in the world. If one arm of the Hong Kong government is promoting an “innovation” economy, then the city should be encouraging more business visitors from India. By sending back these “asylum” seekers, the Hong Kong government will be doing the majority of Indians in Hong Kong and India a big favour.

N. Balakrishnan is a Hong Kong-based businessman