Hong Kong is urged to be compassionate in helping asylum seekers When Khan Mohammed fled Pakistan to seek asylum in Hong Kong about a year ago, it was to escape brutality at the hands of his persecutors. 'This was the only opportunity I had to flee,' said Khan - not his real name - who flew direct to Hong Kong airport with his wife and two children, aged five and nine. 'Because I belong to a minority religion, they fabricated cases against me, sent me to prison three times and made me suffer inhumane treatment in jail,' the 32-year-old former lawyer said. He admits it was an emotional decision to leave his homeland. 'But we were forced to leave. I had to try to find a safer world for my children.' Khan and his family are the face of the modern dilemma facing Hong Kong, where an average of 200 refugees seek asylum through Chek Lap Kok airport each month. 'So many people see refugees as a problem,' said Colin Mitchell, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' China and Mongolia regional representative, as he marked World Refugee Day yesterday. 'But they are the victims, not the problem. And we need to turn this sort of thinking around.' Mr Mitchell points to the legacy of the waves of Vietnamese asylum seekers who flooded into Hong Kong in the 1980s and 1990s. There were about 220,000 migrants in total, and Mr Mitchell believes many local residents still hold some bitterness about the burden the boat-people crisis forced on the city. Most of the Vietnamese were forced into camps, with the Hong Kong government and the UNHCR footing a US$300 million bill. 'The main theme on the streets of Hong Kong when dealing with refugee issues is 'when is the UNHCR going to pay the money back',' he said. 'They say the UNHCR owes US$150 million, and to have that impression among the average man on the street is very unfortunate, especially given the humanitarian successes we achieved.' He said during that period of crisis the UNHCR was able to re-settle more than two-thirds of the prima facie refugees, returning the remainder to their country of origin. Today, he says, the reality is very different. 'On the scale of new arrivals worldwide, 200 people each month is not much. And clearly Hong Kong is not a solution, it is unacceptable to see Hong Kong as a place of refuge, it is too small, too densely populated, too overcrowded. He estimates that it costs about US$500 a month - comparatively the price of a camp in Africa for 15,000 people - to feed, clothe and house a family of refugees in the Special Administrative Region. But it is this generosity that is giving people like Khan and his family a second chance at life. 'Hong Kong has treated me very well,' said Khan, who lives in a two-room flat in Kwai Chung with his family. His case is being processed and once approved the family will most likely be resettled in Canada, he said. 'We are very grateful for the support they are giving us here in Hong Kong. 'We only face one problem and the big difficulty here is the ongoing education of our children. Because we are refugees the government does not provide any support for education. We teach them at home, but school is a necessity. And it is not just my children but all other refugees that have the problem.'