Human rights activists in refugees' 'March for Protection', urging reform

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 October, 2012, 4:59am

Human rights advocates will march this week to highlight the plight of the city's refugees and challenge the government over what they call a zero per cent recognition rate for these people.

NGOs and church groups will back refugees in urging a reform of the legal system, as they denounce the practice of sending foreigners back to their countries, where possible torture awaits.

"There are serious systemic flaws in the decision-making process that need to be remedied," human rights lawyer Mark Daly said, referring to the refugees' fight for legal recognition.

Participants in the "March for Protection" - organised by Vision First, an NGO that helps refugees in Hong Kong - will gather at the Star Ferry pier in Central at 2pm on Tuesday and head to the Legislative Council Complex in Admiralty and Immigration Tower in Wan Chai, where they will hand petitions to the Legco president and immigration director.

In 1992, the Hong Kong government signed the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, but it has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, which is ratified by 147 states and is the more common convention referred to worldwide when assessing refugees' claims.

The city set up a screening mechanism to evaluate refugees' claims under the UN convention in 2004 and enhanced the system in 2009, improving refugees' access to legal representation. But despite these measures, refugees still wait years for their cases to be considered, and of the roughly 3,000 claims that have passed through the new system, not one case has been recognised.

Daly put this down to a number of judicial reviews that were going through the courts to challenge how some of the decisions were made. The challenges put the legal system under intense pressure, he said.

"The spotlight has now been put on the legal system in Hong Kong because it's obvious that something is seriously wrong," said Daly. "I see good genuine cases, but it seems like it doesn't matter and they're just being rejected."

The march is being organised following the death of a Pakistani refugee who took his life last month after his application for protection was rejected. He had feared the prospect of torture back in his homeland.

Daly believes this was just one example of how the system has failed.

"Not being allowed to work, the inevitable delays concerning individual cases and the seeming hopelessness of it all can lead to tragic circumstances," he said.


Vision First has come to the aid of citizens from 42 countries

Number of torture claims received by the government up to August 31 this year: around 11,900.

Number of claims finalised: 6,450

Number being processed: 5,450

Number of cases granted prior to 2009: 1

Of the total claims, 4,100 were lodged since the government introduced an enhanced screening process in December 2009; of these, 2,224 had been determined up to August 31, of which none were granted.

Source: Immigration Department, in a letter to Vision First