By: Ka Wang Kelvin Lam
Today (20 June) is World Refugee Day, when the global community comes together to honour refugees. The United Nations General Assembly in 2000 designated the day as an international day with the aim of raising global awareness on refugee issues. How much do you know about refugees in Hong Kong?
今天（ 6 月 20 日）是世界難民日，在世界各地，人們齊聚一堂向難民致敬。聯合國大會於 2000 年將這一天定為國際節日，藉此希望喚起全球對難民議題的關注。你對香港的難民認識有多少呢？
Today, forced displacement is one of the top global challenges. Statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reveal that at the end of 2020, 82.4 million persons had been forcibly displaced worldwide because of conflict and persecution. Nearly half of these refugees were displaced outside of their country of origin. Many were from Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan, and neighbouring regions such as Turkey, Pakistan and Uganda have hosted most of these refugees. Hong Kong is one of many places where forcibly displaced people take refuge.
被迫流離失所的普及化是現今全球面臨的嚴峻挑戰。根據聯合國難民署（UNHCR）的統計數據顯示，全球截至 2020 年底已有 8,240 萬人口因衝突和迫害而流離失所。當中近一半人身處在原籍國以外。這些難民大部分來自敘利亞，阿富汗和南蘇丹，與此同時，鄰近地區如土耳其，巴基斯坦和烏干達接收了大部分難民。 香港是許多被迫流離失所者尋求庇護的地方之一。
The International Refugee Regime and its Practice in Hong Kong
We often hear the terms ‘asylum seekers’ and ‘refugees’. Asylum seekers and refugees are forcibly displaced persons seeking international protection. In legal terms, asylum seekers are individuals who have applied for refugee status and are awaiting a decision on their claim. After their refugee status has been substantiated, they may be resettled in a third country where the Refugee Convention applies. Applicants whose refugee status is not substantiated will be repatriated. In this article, the term ‘refugees’ will be used to refer to both asylum seekers and refugees.
Hong Kong has been a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture since 1992, but it is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. Hence, Hong Kong does not host refugees and is only a ‘stopover’ for asylum seekers (who are awaiting a decision on their claim) and refugees (who are awaiting resettlement). The Hong Kong government launched the Unified Screening Mechanism (USM) to process asylum claims in 2014. Claims that are substantiated under the USM are referred to the UNHCR for determination. The applicants are then resettled in third countries by the UNHCR.
香港於 1992 年加入《聯合國禁止酷刑公約》，但《難民公約》並不適用於本港。因此，香港不收容難民，其只是尋求庇護者於等候審核結果以及難民於等候重新安置期間的「中轉站」。香港政府於 2014 年推出統一審核機制（USM）處理庇護申請。經該機制審核並獲確立的申請將遞交聯合國難民署進行裁決，繼而為申請人進行重新安置。
Although refugees lodge a protection claim upon arrival in Hong Kong, many remain stranded in the city for decades because of prolonged legal processes. Surprisingly, the substantiation rate for asylum claims in Hong Kong is less than one per cent per annum, despite a global average of 27 per cent.
Refugees in Hong Kong staged a protest for their rights in 2015. Photo: AFP.
香港的難民於 2015 年發起一項遊行集會，促請當局改善他們在港的待遇。圖：AFP
Lived Experience in Hong Kong as a Refugee
Currently, there are about 14,000 refugees in Hong Kong. According to an informant of the Refugee Union, over 50 per cent of these are from South Asia, 30 per cent from Southeast Asia and 10 per cent from Africa.
目前有約 14,000 名難民滯留香港，據難民聯會的知情人士透露，當中過半數來自南亞地區，百分之 30 來自東南亞地區，以及百分之 10 來自非洲地區。
Although Hong Kong is one of the most affluent cities in the world, the local refugee community is not given financial security. For many refugees, the lived experience in Hong Kong is yet another struggle for survival.
Why is this so? Refugees in Hong Kong are normally not allowed to work and are solely reliant on a limited monthly stipend of HK$3,200 (US$408) to survive. The stipend comprises a HK$1,200 food allowance, HK$1,500 rental subsidy, HK$300 for utilities and HK$200 for transport to official visits. Children receive half of this amount. The stipend is subcontracted from the Social Welfare Department to the International Social Service Hong Kong (ISS-HK) for provision. The value of this stipend is six times lower than the local median wage, and the stipend is far from adequate to survive in Hong Kong, one of the most expensive places in the world. As one refugee stated, ‘even the cheapest windowless subdivided flat in Hong Kong costs HK$3,000.’ From the perspective of the Hong Kong government, the harsh refugee policy aims to avoid turning Hong Kong into a ‘magnet’ for economic migrants.
這一切源於苛刻的難民政策。在香港，難民一般不獲准工作，只能以每月 HK$3,200（相當於 US$408）的津貼過活。該津貼由社會福利署委託香港國際社會服務社（ISS-HK）發放，包括 HK$1,200 的食物券、HK$1,500 的住屋津貼、HK$300 的雜費，以及 HK$200 的交通津貼。 小童只獲發一半的金額。 該津貼的金額低於本地工資中位數的六倍，遠不足以負擔香港高昂的生活開支。一名難民曾告訴筆者：「在香港，就算是租住最便宜而且沒有窗戶的劏房也需要支付 HK$3,000。」可想而知，他們的生活實在是捉襟見肘。香港政府則辯稱，如此苛刻的難民政策是為了避免令本港淪為吸引經濟移民大量湧入的「磁鐵」。
‘There is no magnet, only destitution!’, we seem to hear the local refugee community crying. At a glance, the refugee policy in Hong Kong is, as described by Vecchio and Ham, a punitive system that restricts refugees from any attempt at self-reliance and produces feelings of frustration and powerlessness.
「只有貧窮，何來磁鐵！」我們彷彿聽到本地難民社群的控訴。簡而言之，香港的難民政策就如 Vecchio 和 Ham 所述的那樣，是一個懲罰性的制度，它限制了難民自力更生的機會，並對他們施加不必要的挫敗和無力感。
Subdivided flats in Hong Kong. Photo: Benny Lam.
Crises Beget Opportunities
2014 was a turning point in the development of the refugee community in Hong Kong, when a group of refugees initiated the ‘Occupy’ protest and asked the Hong Kong government to improve the assistance available to them. The protest consolidated the local refugee community and led to the formation of the Refugee Union, the first refugee-led organisation in Hong Kong.
2014 年是推動本地難民社群發展的一個轉折點。當年香港的難民發起了一項名為「佔領」的社會運動，他們要求香港政府加強對他們的援助。該運動團結了香港的難民，並促成了本地首個由難民領導的組織 —— 難民聯會 的成立。
Students from a local international school delivering an artwork class at the centre of Refugee Union. Photo: Refugee Union.
In recent years, the challenges facing the local refugee community have received greater attention. Increasingly, people and groups in the neighbourhood are willing to lend them a hand. Every day, the Refugee Union is filled with people, and refugee leaders share responsibility for the daily operation of the centre. Teachers and students from local universities and international schools visit the centre and organise social and cultural activities, and representatives of charity and religious groups and corporations donate goods to the centre.
We expect that in the future, Hong Kong’s refugee community will continue to use refugee-led groups as key platforms to engage with other communities and participate in civil society. On World Refugee Day, let us pray for world peace and honour the resilience of refugees.
F. Vecchio, Asylum seeking and the global city (New York: Routledge, 2015).
 UNHCR, ‘Global trends in forced displacement’ (2021), www.unhcr.org/flagship-reports/globaltrends.
 UNHCR, ‘Master glossary of terms’ (2021), www.unhcr.org/master-glossary.html.
 Immigration Department, ‘Making a claim for non-refoulement protection in Hong Kong’ (2021), www.immd.gov.hk/eng/useful_information/non-refoulement-making-claim.html.
 F. Vecchio and J. Ham, ‘From subsistence to resistance: Asylum-seekers and the other “Occupy” in Hong Kong’, Critical Social Policy 38, no.2 (2018), pp. 201–21.
 Vecchio and Ham, ‘From subsistence to resistance’.
 Census and Statistics Department, ‘Wages and labour earnings’ (2022), www.censtatd.gov.hk/en/scode210.html.
 Vecchio and Ham, ‘From subsistence to resistance’.