• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 4:16pm
NewsHong Kong
IMMIGRATION

Belgian man stateless in Hong Kong after losing citizenship when renewing passport

When is a Belgian not a Belgian? When he doesn't ask to remain one - as Hong Kong-born Sze Chung Cheung found to his cost, a decision that's effectively left banker stateless

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 July, 2014, 5:26am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 July, 2014, 9:00am

A 29-year-old man is stateless in Hong Kong after he was stripped of his Belgian nationality.

Sze Chung Cheung, who has lived and worked in Hong Kong since 2009, was born in Hong Kong to a Belgian mother and a Hong Kong father.

The financier's problems began in February when he applied for what he thought was a routine passport renewal.

He was shocked to be told by a Belgian consular official that he was no longer Belgian because of a little-known clause in the country's citizenship law.

"I did not think that it was possible for me to lose my nationality unless I betrayed my country or was guilty of great crimes," he said.

Ever since then, Sze, who lives in Tseung Kwan O, has been fighting an uphill battle to reinstate his nationality.

"For a long time I thought I could come to an agreement with Belgium, which sounds like some kind of dream or wishful thinking," he said.

Sze was told by Deputy Consul Paul de Vos that he had lost his citizenship because he had not met certain criteria under the Act of Belgian Citizenship: he was not born in Belgium, he did not live in the country between the ages of 18 to 28 and he did not state his intention to retain his nationality before the age of 28.

"This law should not have been applied to me because all my life I have only had Belgian nationality," said Sze, who holds a permanent Hong Kong ID card.

"What the consulate has been telling me [is that it] … seems obvious 'in our view that you are of Chinese nationality'. I was guilty without proof."

Patrick Wautelet, a professor of law at the Université de Liège in Belgium who specialises in cross-border nationality issues, said officials had no requirement to inform people about risks to their citizenship.

"It would be counterproductive," he said.

Citizenship lawyer Barry Chin Chi-yung said that a Hong Kong identity card "cannot alone indicate that a person is a Chinese national".

Six months after Sze was born in 1984, he was registered with the consulate in Hong Kong. At age two he moved to Brussels with his parents. Later, the family relocated to France and in 2009 he moved to Hong Kong.

Throughout his life, Sze has travelled as a Belgian citizen with his Belgian passport.

Evert Marechal, Belgium's consul general for Hong Kong, said the consulate did not comment on individual cases, citing "privacy and confidentiality".

He said Sze could reapply for his nationality by working in Belgium for a year or obtain a visa for a Hong Kong passport.

"How can I just move country, find a new job? Do I want to do it? My life now is here. This condition now makes me unable to fulfil it," said Sze.

 


Pair who lost Belgian citizenship needed 7-year court fight to get it back

In 2013, after a seven-year legal battle, Belgium's second-highest court, the Court of Appeal, ruled that the government's decision to strip lawyers Marc and Louis Ryckmans of their citizenship was unlawful.

The Ryckmans twins - born in 1967 in Hong Kong and the sons of Belgian-Australian writer Pierre Ryckmans (Simon Leys) - were registered with the consulate in Hong Kong. The family moved to Australia in 1970. Both obtained their first passports in 1985, and continued to travel on Belgian passports until 2006, when their request for renewal was refused. They were asked to make a declaration to keep their Belgian nationality if they also possessed another one. They did not make a declaration.

Diplomats in Sydney argued that the Ryckmans were Chinese nationals through their mother. Later, officials argued the Ryckmans were British citizens, since they were born in Hong Kong.

The Court of Appeal judge focused on why the identical twins had not made a declaration of their nationality. According to Belgian legal scholar and expert Patrick Wautelet, the twins "were entitled to believe they did not possess any other nationality than the Belgian nationality".

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This article is now closed to comments

epicentre
What a pointless and long article about a very individual problem that really is none.
I can think of dozens of other issues that are far more pressing and require public attention, but are not published.
In addition a very poorly researched article about what is essentially someone stupidity.
He is not stateless. China citizenship laws clearly stipulate anyone is a Chinese National and therefore eligible for a HKSAR passport if you are a) of Chinese descent (Chinese father - check) and b) born in HK (check).
So let's pls use journalistic talent for real issues!
mrgoodkat
@Catherine: Why should the government have to inform you about public laws? Everybody knows that you have to declare which nationality to keep if you were born with two. Belgium is pretty generous allowing the declaration to be made before age 28, for most other countries the age is 21.
He didn't lose his citizenship because he hadn't lived in Belgium, he lost it because he had a second citizenship and didn't declare he wanted to keep the Belgian citizenship. He was born in HK to an obviously Chinese HK resident, given his name, which gives him HK citizenship. Losing his Belgian citizenship doesn't make him stateless, he still can apply for SAR passport. I'm sure the Belgian consulate took him having a second citizenship into account and didn't just willfully deprive him.
philpaul
Has the SCMP forgotten Article 24 of the Basic Law that prompted the first constitutional crisis in post-1997 HK? It states 'The permanent residents of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be: (1) Chinese citizens born in Hong Kong before or after the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region; (2) Chinese citizens who have ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than seven years before or after the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region; ... (4) Persons not of Chinese nationality who have entered Hong Kong with valid travel documents, have ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than seven years and have taken Hong Kong as their place of permanent residence before or after the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region; ...'
As this person is a HK permanent resident on the basis of his birth in HK (and to a Chinese father) despite moving to HK only in 2009 (thus not 7 years), he is a Chinese citizen. Citizenship comes at birth unless one acquires a second (or third...) one by naturalisation. He was Belgian and Chinese at birth, and Belgian law requires that he declared by a certain age whether he wanted to retain his Belgian nationality because he was not born in Belgium and did not live in Belgium at the material times. He didn't. End of story. I applaud Belgium. Imagine if Belgium were invaded - would this person be willing to fight for Belgium?
Carparklee
If someone lives and works almost his or her entire life outside his or her own country and did not make much sizeable contribution financially to the country in the form of tax etc. Once this someone gets old and return to the country to enjoy the close-to-socialistic state level welfare, do you think this can called fair to his or her fellow citizens in the country? Do you think a country with financial obligation loopholes can sustain long?
blue
He qualifies for an SAR passport, therefore he is not stateless.
nick.doddle
Maybe It's time to go stateless for everyone - get rid of states, governments and borders altogether? Saves a lot of money and resources for more important things, like research, education, healthcare, culture, renewables.
CatherineOhlLaw
"It would be counterproductive for Belgian authorities to inform Belgian citizens about the limitations on their nationality". what kind of mentality is that ? Is the purpose of that State to reduce the citizenships of its nationals ? what's next, entrapment ? No wonder there isn't much national spirit in that country when your own laws and regulations work against your remaining part of it. Or I am misunderstanding and Belgian nationality is only for people who are born in, live their whole life in, do not marry foreigners and have children abroad .
philpaul
Incidentally, he is guilty of a great crime - there is no crime greater than stupidity, other than parading one's stupidity.
Carparklee
This is not unusual. I heard that Denmark actually requires the offspring of any Danish citizens to receive exams and interviews before they can be formally recognised as Danish. I think that's a fair requirement to ensure the sustainability of a country. The welfare standard is very good there but it should not serve it as a pulling magnet to economic immigrants. I think all European countries are facing the same challenge. Hong Kong SAR government should learn a lesson from here as well, I think.
53db7bab-5078-406a-8069-4c5a0a320968
To be exact, having a HK ID card does not confer a "HK nationality". By stripping away his Belgian nationality, he was effectively rendered stateless in the strict sense of the term. I dont think it's fair to assume he's nervous solely because of losing something so trivial as an expat status. Anyone would be shocked to have lived all his/her life being a national of a country, and be suddenly told one day that the nationality has been taken away because of an administrative formality. Because that is what it really was, an administrative formality to declare oneself as wanting to remain Belgian. And quite honestly, who has the luxury to keep oneself updated on all the enacted laws of his country of origin? The whole lot of us are just busy toiling and making ends meet at the end of the month. That brings another point into question: isnt a consulate supposed to look after the interests of its nationals? failing to communicate such an important clause, entailing such a drastic result -stripping away of a nationality - it's just unbelievable. It rather looks like summary justice by an official all too eager to apply the letter of the law. What Mr Sze should do is go through the belgian judicial system and appeal. Because that is just a ludicrous situation he is in.

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