• Wed
  • Oct 22, 2014
  • Updated: 4:06am
NewsHong Kong

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

This article reflects how un-gratefulness and sense of entitlement could lead an educated person so blind. Supposed to be international, well-educated/well-traveld, living in multiple cultures, he instead reduced himself to a type ignorant of his own country's law, stupid enough to think parading his case in media would help him, and sense of arrogance that Belgium owe him, while it is the other way round.
Citizenship is not passport in convenience or for sale, it leads to several questions: do you pay tax? do you serve in the army? do you have inseparable bond of the community living in that country? do you have enough knowledge of the nation's history or people? Mr. Sze should ask these questions to himself before crying out like a baby and making himself a fool in front of many people. Read the comments after the article, very few have sympathy for him.
If he were a Belgian, then why does he look like a 100% Hongkong Chinese and not a trace of Flemish or Wallonian blood; and why does he not have any typical French Catholic Christian names as his middle names as they are still typically adopted in Belgium, such as "Jean-Pierre", et cetera?
I mean, let's face it, he is NOT a Belgian, but a Hongkong Chinese who used to have a Belgian passport and a Belgian national identity card—he certainly cannot read any French, and never mind Dutch, or understand also Belgian Dutch or Flemish—otherwise, he would had been able to read the notes with regards to Belgian nationality and citizenship, as well as on the use of Belgian passports generally as national travel documents, on the first ten pages or so of his Belgian passports, usually written and printed bilingually in both French and in Dutch; or had followed Belgian news; otherwise, he would had known that Belgium does not really allow for dual nationality anyway—he only wants to be a Belgian to get a EU Community (Belgian) passport and a EU Community (Belgian) national identity card, so that he can want to work mainly in Chinese takeaways in England, Scotland and Ireland—and probably all "cash-in-hand", tax-free!
Cry racism all day, all you like, but at the end of the day, Belgium is Belgium, not Old Saigon, Singapore, Vancouver or Toronto—live with it! Geddit?!
Also, would like to know your position about nonwhites who are British/European/American etc. Judging by your post, only white people can be those nationalities.
And one has to ask why a UKIPer is on a Hong Kong news site...
You have Nigel Farage as your avatar. Enough said.
"so that he can want to work mainly in Chinese takeaways in England, Scotland and Ireland—and probably all "cash-in-hand", tax-free!"
Is that your impression of all Chinese in white nations? You need to wake up.
Don't talk to me about "Whites" and so-called "White Countries"! You can barely write English yourself, so you have no right to emigrate to anywhere anyway, really!
Yes, North America is North America, and Europe is Europe. Europe is definitely a White Man's continent since Day Minus One! Yes, Belgium is still a "hideously White" Country outside of Brussels and Antwerp; and a Belgian passport is indeed a White Man's passport!
Of course he is trying to get into England to get paid to cook fried rice—thus making it my business! Why else would Monsieur Cheung say that he has no intention of ever returning back to Belgium?! Need I mention the DVDs?!
A simple majority of the contemporary Chinese of the working age and in the United Kingdom and in the Republic of Ireland are, alas, and currently, a majority of those hail from the place du jour, being Fu-qing (Fook Ching; Hok-Chiang), in Fujian Province. I have also a Chinese relative who did just that— "moonlighting"—when he was a school pupil and then a student in Scotland.
The English language is a White Man's language as well, mind you! Why did some Orientals decide to use a White Man's language as the language and medium of a newspaper and its on-line platform, yet somehow expect the White Man be excluded from giving his tuppence' worth?! What a strange Chinese sense of logic! And how do you know that I am not in fact also a Chinaman myself?!
I think it is you who are being racist. Incidentally, Belgium does allow for dual citizenship.
How could he ever had been a Belgian in the spiritual and social sense rather than in the legal sense in the first place, when obviously he along with his father and his so-called Belgian mother can neither read, write, speak nor understand French, Belgian Flemish Dutch or Flemish? This is what most of Western Europe really think about Monsieur and Madame Cheung anyway, so if that means being called "racisme", then so be it!
As to the position and the policy on dual nationality and dual citizenship vis-à-vis the Kingdom and the Government of Belgium, you are indeed correct, that I must have confused the Dutch position with that of the Belgians.
Good! What does this Chinese guy wants a Belgium citizenship for? He has no intention to make Belgium and her communities a better place. Not to mention paying taxes from his earnings here in Hong Kong. So why should you EARNED to be a Belgium Citizen? Let me guess, like any other Hong Kong or Chinese who has a Canadian, American, or any other first-world citizenship, they don't even know who is the head-of-state!!
The SCMP reporter may have no other topic to write on; otherwise why the reporter does not make any fair analysis in his writing. Mr. Sze is absolutely NOT stateless at all. He has HK ID card. In the report, he has already stated that this is not making sense for him to regain his Belgium nationality by working in Belgium for a year. Obviously, Mr. Sze does not want to leave HK for good. Then why does he need the Belgium nationality? The Belgium consulate is right. Striping someone nationality for no sign to live in Belgium is a completely justified decision. Some thing is now doing in Canada. In my opinion, Mr. Sze is a bit nervious about his pride to loose his expatriate social status in Hong Kong. That may affect his paid cheque if he turns into a domestic Hong Kong residence. My last advice to him is: Do not hold any pride or feeling of superiority as a Belgium citizen while you are living in Hong Kong. You should stay as an ordinary Hong Kong residence and work hard. You cannot have the whole world.
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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