Marchers call for fairer treatment of refugees in Hong Kong

Marchers demanding fairer treatment for refugees under UN convention accuse the government of psychological torture

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2012, 4:09am

Protesters accused Hong Kong bureaucrats of inflicting "psychological torture" on refugees seeking protection under a UN convention.

In a demonstration organised by the NGO Vision First, about 300 people marched from Central to the government headquarters in Admiralty carrying banners calling the city a "prison without walls".

They delivered a petition demanding fairer and more humane treatment for refugees to the Legislative Council and the Director of Immigration.

In 1992 Hong Kong signed the 1984 UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), under which the city agreed to not expel anyone back to a country where they might be tortured.

Yet since 1992, only one of about 11,900 claims have been accepted by the Hong Kong government, according to Director of Immigration Philip Leung Kin-hung. All other claims have been rejected or are currently being processed.

Vision First executive director Cosmo Beatson said: "Facts lead us to believe that the current CAT system does not reflect a protection policy, but rather a rejection mechanism."

He added: "Hong Kong can at least be upfront about it instead of putting up a façade of respecting the rule of law. That creates false hope."

As well as protesting against the "zero per cent recognition rate", marchers also complained about what they called intolerable conditions inside the city's immigration detention facilities.

Claimants can be detained for overstaying after a claim is rejected and 115 are currently in detention, according to an Immigration Department spokesman.

One protester, Nishan, 30, said he was brutally beaten in Sri Lanka before fleeing to Hong Kong in 2004. He served two detention sentences, of 10 months in total, after his torture claim was rejected by the Immigration Department.

Released from the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre detention facility in August, he is now awaiting a judicial review.

"I was running a restaurant in Sri Lanka, and politicians kept coming to eat and refusing to pay. When I asked for payment, they beat me and threatened to kill me," he said.

"The Hong Kong government assumes we're lying, so they detain us instead of protecting us … but I wouldn't have left my family at home if I had not needed to."

Human rights lawyer Mark Daly said Hong Kong should not use detention as a tactic to deter people from coming to the city.

"The United Nations has put out guidelines on detention that said it should generally not be used. The numbers [of claimants] in Hong Kong is small, so there's no need for it [here]," he said.

After Hong Kong rejects them, claimants have little chance of finding refuge elsewhere, he said.

"It would be difficult for them to get a visa if they have a removal or deportation order from Hong Kong," he said.

An Immigration Department spokesman said it had introduced an enhanced screening mechanism for torture claims in December 2009.

"Under the enhanced mechanism, claimants are given every reasonable opportunity to establish their claims," he said.