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Asylum seekers in Asia

Hong Kong’s asylum seekers demand better support to help and protect refugee children

Scores are expected to take to the city’s streets Monday calling for an increase in welfare assistance

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 November, 2016, 12:33pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 November, 2016, 10:55pm

The city’s asylum seekers will protest on Monday in a call for more help and better protection of refugee children’s rights.

Peter Maina, secretary general of the Refugee Union, said he expected 150 refugees to join the rally and walk from the Church of Christ in China, in Wan Chai, to the Social Welfare Department at about 4pm.

“We want to put some pressure on the government to improve our social welfare support, which we feel is insufficient,” Maina said.

Last week the group handed a petition to the Social Welfare Department urging the Social Service Hong Kong Branch – which is entrusted by the government to provide assistance to all asylum seekers – to pay their full deposit and flat rents, increase the value of monthly food coupons from HK$1,200 to HK$2,000, and provide a separate monthly coupon for nappies.

Asylum seekers are not allowed to work in the city. While officials screen their claims, which often takes several years, they rely on social welfare payments. The payments include a monthly housing allowance of HK$1,500 per adult, HK$1,200 for food in supermarket coupons, transport expenses averaging HK$200 per person and HK$300 for utilities.

Asylum seekers in Hong Kong made headlines in recent months, as news emerged that three groups of people seeking refuge sheltered former NSA contractor Edward Snowden when he was hiding in the city in 2013.

Robert Tibbo, Snowden’s local lawyer, said officials “refuse to meet their basic needs and that’s the general practice against asylum seekers in Hong Kong.”

He also noted the plight of refugee children, many of whom were born in Hong Kong. Parents have reported difficulties enrolling children in schools and paying for materials and uniforms.

“The refugee children have been left destitute... most are living below the poverty line,” Tibbo described.

There were 10,815 outstanding asylum claimants as of September. Among them, 559 were under 18 years old. Most asylum seekers come from Vietnam, India and Pakistan.

On Thursday pro-Beijing lawmaker Holden Chow Ho-ding submitted a motion to combat so-called “bogus refugees”. The Legislative Council’s panel on security is expected to discuss it on November 30.

The government has said it is working on the enhancement of the current screening mechanism. An online pre-arrival registration for Indian passport holders, which will be put in place from early next year, was among the measures recently announced.