Grim prospects for Hong Kong’s South Asian asylum seekers when their own governments want them in a gulag

Yonden Lhatoo is alarmed by Nepal’s top diplomat in the city backing calls for a detention centre for torture and asylum claimants, even suggesting harsh treatment to warn them off

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 April, 2016, 7:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 April, 2016, 7:33pm

I noticed that a rather disturbing piece of news last week barely caused a flutter in this town, but I can’t seem to let it go. Not yet.

Nepal’s top diplomat in Hong Kong, Baliram Prasad Dhami, held a joint press conference with pro-establishment legislator Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, to publicly back an unofficial campaign gaining traction to build some sort of an offshore detention centre – or concentration camp, if you want to call a spade a spade – for Indian, Pakistani and other South Asian asylum seekers “flocking” here.

For those who came in late, this foul solution to a genuine problem Hong Kong needs to fix has recently been bandied about by such august patrons as former security minister turned lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee. Ip, who is also a member of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s cabinet, has suggested finding an outlying island off neighbouring Shenzhen to detain all asylum and torture claimants seeking to enter Hong Kong.

She claims the idea resonates among her hardline buddies in high places and cites Hong Kong’s incarceration of Vietnamese boatpeople in the past as a justifiable historical precedent for introducing a “good deterrent”.

But why criticise someone who genuinely wants to protect her homeland, even though she does have a tendency to go all camp commandant-style sometimes, when South Asian governments couldn’t be bothered to look out for their own?

The Nepalese consul general outdid Ip by suggesting detainees in these camps be forced to work, the implication being that subjecting his pesky, poverty-stricken compatriots to good old third-world-style abuse should teach them to stay away.

“We can put them in some refugee detention camp [to let them have] bad experiences that life is not as it is [expected],” he said. Really?

I’m not accusing Leung of putting anything in his momos, or Himalayan dumplings, but I can’t fathom how she managed to persuade him to jump through Uncle Tom hoops like that.

With friends like these, who needs enemies? Just the kind of encouragement you would give tens of thousands of Nepalese immigrants and migrant workers seeking better fortunes around the world. All the success that vibrant Nepalese communities across the globe have achieved is under their own steam, no thanks to their clueless government and bureaucrats.

I suppose solving the problem of snakeheads and middlemen at source is too much to ask of a government that is known for strokes of genius such as tackling rampant bribery at customs and immigration at Nepal’s main airport by ordering staff to wear clothes without pockets so there would be no place to stash the cash.

I should add that Hong Kong’s Immigration Department is dealing with only around 300 Nepalese claimants, which is just 3 per cent of the total. And that’s from a country that was ravaged by a horrific civil war.

Even if hordes of deadly South Asians with bogus asylum claims are swarming all over Hong Kong – they’re not, and you could say that about Vietnamese illegal immigrants in terms of sheer numbers – the Nepalese are obviously not the problem, Mr Consul General.

Hong Kong is burdened with a backlog of 11,160 applications on asylum and torture grounds. More than half of the claimants are said to be illegal immigrants and each case takes over 2 years to resolve on average. Our government has all the money in the world to expedite that process, instead of dragging it out, vilifying those in limbo on the waiting list, and painting entire minority communities with the same racist brush.

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post