HK presents a hostile environment to those seeking protection

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 October, 2015, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 October, 2015, 5:02pm

Recent letters about the present European refugee crisis suggest that Hong Kong will do the right thing if there is an influx of Syrian refugees.

While I hope this sentiment is true, it must be remembered that Hong Kong's response to the Vietnamese crisis was a government-led initiative, which took considerable courage and commitment. It was the government leading the people by example to reach out to accommodate a large influx of refugees.

It was a positive response to an urgent need. The government worked hard to bring society together in providing a solution while moderating any anti-refugee propaganda which might lead to racially fuelled tension.

However, the situation has changed since those days in two significant ways. Today, the boot is on the other foot and the government itself seems to largely portray refugees as unwelcome illegal immigrants, rather than encouraging the public to understand that refugees have a right to seek protection here under its own recognition of the UN Convention against Torture. Information presented by the Immigration Department always emphasises the growing numbers of people claiming protection, the high cost of providing legal aid for the screening process, and the costs of providing humanitarian assistance and housing.

There is no celebration of Hong Kong's humanitarian values in being able to extend protection to people under threat of death, but instead an irritation at having to expend money and effort in sifting through a heap of "fake refugees" in order to find the few "genuine" cases.

Secondly, a recent study of the portrayal of refugees in the media seems to largely underscore this negative impression, with derogatory comments and opinions directed at protection claimants. With a few notable exceptions, refugees are often connected with crime, illegal work and drugs, while racial slurs and offensive labels are commonly observed.

The human story of desperation, anguish of separation from family, and being alienated in a foreign culture hardly ever gets told.

Hong Kong cannot continue to look back with nostalgia to the boat people days and rest on its laurels.

Today's reality is that Hong Kong presents a hostile environment to those seeking protection. This is carefully engineered by the government and nurtured by the media.

We really need to do better than this if we are to face again an immigration influx like the Vietnamese crisis of the 1980s

Tony Read, Tung Chung