A torture claimant received a temporary work permit from the Immigration Department just a day before he is to lodge a legal challenge against the department in the city's top court today.
The Sri Lankan is the first torture claimant to be allowed to work in the city. His lawyer, Mark Daly, said a letter from the Immigration Department arrived at the law firm yesterday, saying his client was granted "temporary permission to work on the [immigration] director's discretion".
Daly described the news as "miraculous" as his client was due to apply for leave to seek to fight in the Court of Final Appeal for his right to work. Daly said the man would pursue his case, despite the temporary permission.
"The right to work as a right as opposed to discretionary permission [by the director of immigration]," Daly said. "Also the test case involves other applicants, such as refugees who cannot be resettled and who have been stranded here for many years. The treatment [of not allowing them to work] by the director of immigration has been cruel and quite inhumane."
Daly did not believe the director's action was likely to open a floodgate, as only three of the refugees he represented had had their torture claims accepted.
The department said last night it had received 12,409 torture claims up to March 31, with six substantiated and 4,348 still being processed. It had only received one application for permission to work from a substantiated claimant - the Sri Lankan.
The Sri Lankan man was one of five refugees who lost their battle for the right to work in both the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal. He arrived in Hong Kong in December 2000 but has not been allowed to work. The court was told he suffers from severe depression.
In November, the Court of Appeal ruled that the five could not invoke the Bill of Rights Ordinance to argue they had the right to work in the city. This was because they had no right to enter or remain in Hong Kong. But the judgment said the immigration director could exercise his discretion to let such people work.