Torture victims seeking asylum in Hong Kong for nine years to settle in Canada

Africans who sought asylum in Hong Kong for nine years in vain are accepted by Ottawa within a year of lodging refugee applications

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 July, 2014, 5:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 July, 2014, 12:09pm

Two torture victims from Africa who have been seeking asylum in Hong Kong for the past nine years have been granted refugee status in Canada within a year of applying.

The plight of the two men highlights the "failing" screening process for torture claimants in the city, says Patricia Ho, a human-rights lawyer with Daly and Associates.

"We submitted exactly the same documents as we did to the Hong Kong government, if not more for the Hong Kong government," Ho said.

"It says a lot that after over nine sessions of interviews [over 36 hours] the Hong Kong government rejected Yaovi's claim, while the Canadian consulate's interview was just 15 minutes long," she said.

She said Nayo Komlan, 30, and Yaovi Ditonne, 32, were scheduled to fly to Canada this week. She has withdrawn the applications before the Hong Kong government. One case had been rejected and was being appealed while the other was still pending.

"They needed to prove the Hong Kong government can't protect them," Ho said. "The failure of the system, the low rates of recognition for torture claims, and the terrifying ISS [social services] system … They were quite satisfied Hong Kong wasn't offering alternatives for them."

The two men, former election monitors, were fleeing torture and persecution by the military dictatorship that has ruled Togo since 1967.

During the 2005 elections, they and four other monitors fled the country after being beaten, electrocuted and threatened with death for refusing to sign false documents saying President Faure Gnassingbe had garnered the most votes.

The Immigration Department did not respond to requests for comment.

The pair were accepted by Canada under the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Programme, under which citizens or permanent residents over the age of 18 with personal relationships with refugees can offer to sponsor and financially support them.

Over 200,000 refugees have been resettled in Canada under the programme since 1979, according to figures released last year by the Canadian government.

In contrast, in Hong Kong from December 2009 to February this year, 22 torture claims were substantiated and 4,733 rejected, Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said in May.

The figures have drawn criticisms from the NGOs helping asylum seekers in the city, who view the screening system as opaque, slow and subject to the whims of case officers.

Hong Kong does not resettle asylum seekers, as it is not a signatory to the relevant UN convention. But it does have a legal obligation not to send back refugees who face torture or degrading treatment in their home country, under the Convention against Torture. Those whose claims are approved are referred to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for resettlement.

There are an estimated 8,000 asylum seekers in the city, said Ho.