HUMAN RIGHTS

Immigration Department

Asylum seekers want better screening from Immigration Department

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 April, 2013, 12:15pm

Banging African drums and chanting words such as "justice", hundreds of asylum seekers and torture claimants marched from Central to Immigration Tower in Wan Chai yesterday to protest over what they say is the government's failed screening process.

The rally came as pan-democrats voiced support for an overhaul, with Albert Ho Chun-yan saying he would propose setting up a review committee.

Cosmo Beatson, the march organiser and executive director of Vision First, which advocates for the rights of those seeking protection, said the Immigration Department's rate of recognition of claims was effectively zero. "The recognition rate is only 0.02 per cent [of all claimants] … The department's screening fails to identify victims," he said.

According to Immigration Department figures, five torture claims have been accepted since December 2009, and 3,110 rejected. About 4,350 are being processed and it estimates 2,000 decisions can be made in 2013-14.

A department spokesman said yesterday the claim there was a "zero recognition" rate was groundless. "Any purported correlation between the number of substantiated claims and the standard of fairness or effectiveness of the screening procedures has no rational basis," he said.

Wako Basafe, an asylum seeker from Eritrea in East Africa who has been in Hong Kong for a year, said he wanted a fair and faster system.

"From the way they accept asylum seekers, it seems that they just look at the map and see if there's a problem like civil war in that country. If not, they will not be accepted," he said.

The department was given a greater role in assessing cases after the Court of Final Appeal last month ruled that the government could not rely mainly on a United Nations agency for asylum assessments.

Ho, of the Democratic Party, said he had "every reason to believe that there must be some flaws in our screening procedures … to properly identify genuine claimants".

Human rights lawyer Mark Daly said the way the government had "dragged their feet" in implementing the court-ordered reforms had been "shameful".

[Correction: An earlier version said the High Court ruled last month that the government should take over asylum screenings from the UNHCR. The ruling was handed down by the Court of Final Appeal.]