Asylum seekers in Asia

Hong Kong refugees and NGOs dealt a body blow by UN comments on ‘fake’ asylum seekers

  • The Hong Kong refugee screening system is fraught with error and the current assessment mechanism is gender-blind
PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 6:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 6:00am

I refer to the letter from Sivanka Dhanapala, the UNHCR representative in China, which left me not just disappointed but appalled at the insensitive labelling of refugees (“How Hong Kong’s refugee screening system works”, October 26).

It is a well-known fact that the Hong Kong refugee screening system is fraught with error and the current assessment mechanism is gender-blind. Women who flee their countries for fear of abuse and violence from their parents and their clan because of cultural practices will not be protected, because this is considered a “domestic” issue and they can’t be classified as “qualified” for refuge.

The substantiation rate is exceedingly low in Hong Kong, at less than 1 per cent, while that of other countries is around 30 per cent to 40 per cent. The UN has also commented that the current “unified screening mechanism” system in Hong Kong needs to be reviewed because of the low substantiation rate.

The whole idea of respecting the rights of refugees, taking care of those who are in trouble and fleeing the fear of danger is the very raison d’être of the UN Refugee Agency.

To talk about differentiating real refugees from economic migrants (aka “fake refugees”) is equivalent to the comments of culturally insensitive, hawkish rightists whose xenophobic and protectionist discourse and policies have been hurting the most vulnerable in the world (“Hong Kong’s refugee situation is not all black and white, and the system needs to respond”, November 1). This is not what is expected of a group that calls for a humanitarian approach to all mankind. This stance is no different from that of some insensitive legislators who label asylum seekers as “fake refugees”.

For the NGOs who support asylum seekers, such comments from a UNHCR representative deal a devastating blow to their cause.

Isabella Ng, assistant professor, Education University; founder, The Hong Kong Society for Asylum-Seekers and Refugees