To be a refugee in Hong Kong is one of the worst decisions one can ever make in life. Why one may choose to seek refuge in Hong Kong might be a matter of life and death. Most of the times options are also limited and the majority of refugees have no choice about where to seek asylum. Yet many will agree with me that it’s not easy to manage as a refugee in Asia’s World City.
In a bid to control and select the flow of travelers into Hong Kong, the Government has put into place a very strict and rigid immigration policy that ensures that only those visitors who are well endowed with resources are welcomed in. As such it’s a city for the rich only. And understandably the Hong Kong Immigration Department aims to prevent undesirable visitors from entering. In this they have been successful.
On one hand we are here, arguably demonstrating failures of border controls. On the other, the refugees who manage to get into Hong Kong find themselves between a rock and a hard place. We must contend with a harsh environment that depicts us as illegal immigrants who should be removed as soon as possible. It’s important to note that refugees cannot lodge an asylum claim while their visitor visa is still valid – which forces us to overstay and thus commit an offense. The Immigration Department will turn you away with firm instructions to come back after your visa expired.
The Government thus turns refugees in to overstayers by forcing us to break the law and become illegal. The law is thereafter used against us as we are branded illegal immigrants. As a consequence we are subjected to psychological torture through a Removal Order that constantly hangs over our head.
As illegal immigrants, refugees do not have legal status, nor do we enjoy many rights as enshrined in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We are stuck in limbo with no future prospects. Having no working rights forces us to lead a miserable life, of hopelessness and despair. We are made to depend on government welfare that is grossly inadequate. No surprise that many refugees resort to other means of survival to make ends meet.
We are told by the government that Hong Kong never signed the Refugee Convention. Therefore it does not have an obligation to assist refugees. Using this strategy, authorities continues to marginalize and frustrate us by ensuring that we are not economically empowered, arguably in a bid to force us to give up on our asylum claims and leave this city.
Those refugees who start a family soon realize they are condemned to a cycle of poverty that is next to impossible to break. First, parents are not financially stable to afford a decent life for their children as they are limited by what the Social Welfare Department refers to as “Humanitarian Assistance”. Secondly, children are refugees as their parents. That means they are in same category and cannot enjoy equal rights as resident children.
The term “Humanitarian Assistance” is a euphemism used to avoid taking responsibility for (and arguably punish) refugees criminalized for earning a living. The cycle repeats itself for the refugee family as the children follow the same route as their parents through the humanitarian assistance program that fails to meet their basic needs.
What will happen to these families who continue to live in abject poverty?
The government is courting disaster. Truth be told, the chickens will eventually come home to roost. The next generation of Hong Kong-born refugees is highly disadvantaged and marginalized. It will eventually form a section of society that cannot support itself. They will resort to other means of survival to make ends meet.
It appears that Hong Kong is unwilling to care for, nor does it empower refugees to compete effectively for opportunities in this competitive city. The government and its policy-makers have continuously ignored and brushed aside the truth, which one day will come back to haunt them. The neglected children may one day become an even greater social problem than their parents.
A practical example which can provide a good case study for Hong Kong is given by the French riots and the tangle of poverty and lack of security in the suburbs of Paris. It is a global world after all.