Hong Kong grants torture claimant protection; only the second ever
Sri Lankan no longer faces deportation; rights advocates say ruling offers others hope
The city has accepted its first torture claim since enhancing its screening system four years ago, a move that advocates of asylum seekers view as good news, yet far from sufficient.
The Sri Lankan man's claim is only the second to have been approved in Hong Kong out of more than 12,000 applications the government has received since 1992, when the city began applying the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The first claim was approved in 2008.
The man, whose name cannot be disclosed for confidentiality reasons, received his approval from the Immigration Department on Thursday, his lawyer Peter Barnes told the South China Morning Post yesterday.
This means the government will keep the man from being returned to Sri Lanka, where he faces risk of torture.
"[The man is] very happy and relieved. He's been waiting for this for a long time, and it requires a great degree of persistence and faith," said Barnes.
"Obviously, it's good news for him, but it's also good news for the system, which has finally recognised that there's a person who's in need of protection," said the lawyer, a specialist in human rights law at Barnes & Daly.
"I hope that now they've recognised one, they'll be prepared to recognise others who are equally deserving of protection."
The Sri Lankan is also the first torture claimant in Hong Kong to win approval at the first try. The 2008 case was approved only after an appeal ruling in court.
The man's approval covers his entire family, said Cosmo Beatson - executive director of Vision First, an organisation that supports asylum seekers in Hong Kong - who had spoken to the Sri Lankan.
Despite being "thrilled" that the Immigration Department had accepted the claimant, Beatson said one was not enough. Hong Kong's current acceptance rate was just 0.03 per cent, far away from those of developed countries, he said.
"[The screening system is] still a work in progress," said Barnes. "[Lawyers here who deal with these issues believe that] there are many more people who are deserving of protection but who are being denied."
"I think [the Sri Lankan's approval] will give a little bit of hope that it's a viable system," said Tony Read, chairman of the Refugee Concern Network, who explained that there had been a growing concern about the system's effectiveness. "But there's still a long way to go, because when you look at the statistics, it's not very encouraging at all."
Hong Kong introduced a mechanism in 2004 to screen torture claims. The system was enhanced in 2009. The Immigration Department could not be reached for comment yesterday as an enquiry was placed after working hours.