Europe’s refugee crisis

Syrian refugee who fled more than 7,000km to Hong Kong applies for asylum seeker status

But human rights group says the city's policy on the issue is too restrictive

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 September, 2015, 3:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 October, 2015, 4:07am

A Syrian national who fled the country's civil war and made his way to Hong Kong has filed for asylum seeker status.

The Immigration Department confirmed to the Post that the Syrian has filed a non-refoulement claim - including both torture and refugee applications - with the government.

The claim is currently pending and will be given the same treatment as other applications. No further details of the case have been revealed.

The news came after shocking images of a three-year-old Syrian refugee, lying lifeless on a beach in Turkey, went viral and spurred calls for countries to extend more help in what many are calling the largest humanitarian crisis in decades.

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"The fact there are Syrian refugees who have travelled all the way to Hong Kong is testament not only to their extraordinary resilience and tenacity, but also to the level of desperation and devastation experienced by Syria's people," said Alexandra Chen, a child trauma specialist with the UN and a native Hongkonger.

Roland Vogt, an international relations professor at the University of Hong Kong, suspected the Syrian case to be isolated, due to the Middle Eastern country's geographical distance from the city and a lack of strong "people ties" between the two places.

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However, he challenged Asian nations to assume greater responsibility in the global crisis.

"Why should the responsibility fall only on Europe? Asian economies are some of the biggest and most prosperous in the world," said Vogt. "The government here doesn't see it as a humanitarian mission to protect refugees from elsewhere."

The department spokeswoman said the city did not take refugees because Hong Kong was not a signatory of the UN's 1951 Refugee Convention.

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"It is often a shock to [refugees] when they find out Hong Kong is actually not bound by the refugee convention and has such a restrictive asylum policy," said Victoria Wisniewski Otero of non-profit human rights group Justice Centre Hong Kong.

Yet, Oxfam Hong Kong said it reopened its Syrian crisis donation account yesterday after it was closed for two years. Crossroads Foundation, another non-profit group, said it had recently seen an uptick in its donations.