Failed asylum seekers left in limbo as countries drag their feet on helping Hong Kong deport 2,000
Some have waited six months to get passports from India, Pakistan and Vietnam consulates, while government source says situation is becoming ‘quite unpleasant’
Nearly 2,000 failed asylum seekers awaiting deportation from Hong Kong have been left in limbo as their countries drag their feet over allowing them to return home, the Post has learned.
Official figures show about 1,900 people, mostly from India, Pakistan and Vietnam, are waiting to be deported, and 65 per cent of them, or 1,230, are still waiting to be issued with documents allowing them to travel.
A government source said the situation had become “quite unpleasant”, with failed asylum seekers who wanted to leave unable to do so.
The Immigration Department said it could not return them to their countries of origin, as most had passports that were either expired, or had gone missing during their time in the city.
“Recently, individual consulates [in Hong Kong] took longer to issue travel documents to their nationals. The number of documents issued was relatively small,” the department said.
“Cases in which [unsuccessful claimants] were waiting for travel documents saw a continuous increase. This has unnecessarily extended their stay in Hong Kong.”
In the most extreme cases, some asylum seekers have been stuck in the city for more than six months before receiving an emergency passport to go home, the authority said, adding that it could take as little as two weeks for a failed applicant to receive the necessary documents and be deported once their claim for asylum had been rejected.
A government source said one of the consulates had issued fewer than 10 passports to nationals whose claims were denied this year, but the diplomatic office did not explain the reasons behind the delays.
“The situation is quite unpleasant,” the source said. “Some of the rejected claimants, who had lost hope [of staying] in Hong Kong, were eager to go home but they can’t, they are stuck.”
Those that remain are released on their own recognisance – which means they agree to report back to the immigration authorities when requested – and are only detained at an immigration centre when it is time for them to be deported.
“It means they are living on public money before they return home,” the source said.
The Post contacted the consulates of the three countries for comment. A spokesman for the Vietnamese envoy said the office had been fully cooperating, and had issued valid travel documents for unsuccessful claimants upon the request of the Immigration Department.
“The verification process for the later issuance of the travel documents depends upon the personal data provided by the claimants,” the spokesman said. “In some cases it takes time because of the lack, or false, information provided, or because of geographic and demographic changes in Vietnam.”
Pakistan’s envoy did not respond, while a spokesman for India said: “We have no comment to offer on the issue.”
The number of asylum seekers claiming refugee status in Hong Kong reached a peak in 2015, with immigration officials dealing with 480 new cases a month in the second half of the year. That compared with 102 cases per month on average between 2010 and 2013.
As a result the department pledged to streamline and speed up the screening process, but by June this year, only 0.75 per cent, or 135, of the 17,978 screened applications had been approved. Another 2,997 claimants are waiting to have their cases dealt with.
To speed up the removal process, the department arranged two separate charter flights in December last year and in February, deporting a total of 88 Vietnamese from Hong Kong.
Pakistan’s Consul General Abdul Qadir Memon told the Post last month that the country was in discussions with Hong Kong’s immigration officials about arranging chartered flights to take unsuccessful Pakistani asylum seekers back home.
“The Hong Kong government is going to pay for it, and we will facilitate [the process], like giving them landing rights and approving the air routes,” Qadir said, adding that the plan should be launched by the end of the year.
On average, the Immigration Department has deported 144 asylum seekers each month so far this year, compared with 53 a month in 2016.
Hong Kong does not resettle asylum seekers, but it does have a legal obligation not to send back those who face torture or degrading treatment in their home country, under the UN’s Convention against Torture.
Those whose claims are approved are referred for resettlement to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
While they wait for claims to be processed, which can take several years, the Hong Kong government provides asylum seekers with about HK$3,200 a month for housing, transport and food.
Even though they are not permitted to work in one of the most expensive cities in the world, many do so illegally to boost the meagre allowance.