Two hunger-striking asylum seekers from a Tuen Mun detention centre have been freed, as human rights groups and a legislator step up pressure on the government to release other detainees.
A hunger strike at the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre entered its sixth day yesterday, with 22 detainees refusing to eat, the Immigration Department said.
Social welfare legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung visited detainees in Tuen Mun yesterday and described their incarceration as 'mental torture'.
One of the released African asylum seekers said he had been detained for three months for overstaying and had been released on bail following intervention by a charity group.
'If you apply to see your case officer, they always say your case is under process every time. If you don't have a friend with a Hong Kong ID card to sign for you, they will not release you. We want the government to release all asylum seekers,' he said.
The other asylum seeker released on bail yesterday had been detained for a month. 'I came to Hong Kong for protection but they kept me with the criminals. It's not a detention centre, it's a prison.'
Both said they had been arrested when they applied for Convention Against Torture status at the Immigration Department.
The Legislative Council's security panel will discuss the situation of asylum seekers, refugees and claimants against torture in Hong Kong at a meeting next Tuesday.
Mr Cheung met 10 of the hunger strikers yesterday and said one had been in detention for two years, but most had been there several months.
He said he intended to take up their cases, and those of other asylum seekers, with the Security Bureau. 'We have to explain to the public why these people are detained without committing any crime ... we should release them.'
The human rights group Christian Action and a refugee lawyer, Mark Daly, are also giving legal assistance to the detainees.
Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees criticised a survey by the Society of Community Organisation, which accused the local United Nations refugee body of maladministration.
The UNHCR regional office in Beijing, which oversees the Hong Kong office, said it was 'unfortunate and inappropriate' that the society had not sought clarification from the refugee organisation before releasing its findings.
The UNHCR defended its procedures for dealing with refugee status applications and countered claims that its officers were sometimes hostile when interviewing asylum seekers.
It said it provided interpreters to assist applicants from 35 countries.