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Why Hong Kong must pause before using “fake refugee” label for asylum seekers: it’s not all black and white

  • Widespread societal prejudice about refugees in Hong Kong is exploited by some media outlets and political parties who create fear and prejudice
  • The screening process is based on a government policy that does not accept refugees
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 November, 2018, 6:30am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 November, 2018, 6:30am

UNHCR representative Sivanka Dhanapala (“Screening system allows Hong Kong to distinguish true refugees from economic migrants”, October 27) paints a very black-and-white picture of the refugee situation in Hong Kong, without commenting on its complexity in terms of those seeking protection, the government’s actions and responsibilities and the reaction of some sectors of society.

The UN Refugee Agency has provided a technical definition of the term “refugee” to try to correct and counteract the widely used rhetoric of “fake refugee” in Hong Kong. The reality is that refugees are here for many different reasons. Some need to flee their country, only to find that their case does not meet the very high standards of the screening process and they are rejected. This does not make them “fake refugees”, or unified screening mechanism abusers, or economic migrants.

Others may have started out as economic migrants but find they are unable to return to their country because of a change in political circumstances and fear of persecution.

Hong Kong has no refugee crisis, only a crisis of response

There is a widespread societal prejudice about refugees in Hong Kong, mainly due to a lack of understanding and opportunity for positive interaction. However, this situation is exploited by some media outlets and political parties who create fear and prejudice. Many South Asians are now being regarded with suspicion and labelled as fake refugees on social media, with racist overtones used by those who should know better.

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The screening process in Hong Kong is far from perfect, with a very low acceptance rate of around 0.8 per cent. At a recent Legislative Council subcommittee meeting, a number of concerns were raised about the system’s fitness for purpose – with calls for a critical review. It is important to understand that the screening process is based on a government policy that does not accept refugees. According to the Immigration Department’s website, Hong Kong has a “long-established firm policy of not granting asylum to or determining the refugee status of anyone”.

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The refugee situation in Hong Kong is complex and there is clearly a lot of work needed to improve the screening process, to create public awareness and understanding and to support those here who are facing difficult circumstances.

The Refugee Concern Network would welcome an opportunity to provide a wider perspective for the UNHCR as it begins to re-establish its presence in the city.

Tony Read, Refugee Concern Network