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May 24, 2013
Resisting government labelling and engaging the community: The ‘March For Protection’ in Hong Kong
May 16, 2013
Francesco Vecchio and Cosmo Beatson write for the Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration, an independent, student run publication that moves to engage with various aspects of forced migration through academic scholarship. The original article is available in the Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration, Volume 3, Number 1 and a simple PDF version is here.
This article intends to analyse an event that revealed new avenues for Hong Kong’s civil society to counter the government’s attempt to negate asylum seekers’ individual agency and the government’s opposition towards a comprehensive asylum policy. This article outlines the context which led to the organisation of the ‘March For Protection’ on 30 October 2012.In doing so, it aims to offer a starting point to explore and debate the march’s rationale, attainments and, more generally, civil society’s relationship with state power.
Asylum seekers in Hong Kong recently grabbed the headlines with a protest march in which they demanded fairer screening and rebuffed official and public views that generally depict them as bogus claimants. In the wake of the ‘March For Protection’ (MFP) and widespread English-language press coverage highlighting the difficulties asylum seekers face in the territory (for example Chiu, 2012a; SCMP Editorial, 2012; Kennedy, 2013; Yeung, 2013), civil society and UNHCR Hong Kong’s head-of-office called forcefully for local authorities to accede to the 1951 Refugee Convention (Chiu, 2012b; Read, 2013) and address current procedural shortcomings (Daly, 2012; Vision First, 2013a).
Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. Under the ‘one country, two systems’ policy, it enjoys relatively broad administrative independence in immigration policy. While it is not our intention to delve into China/Hong Kong relations, we note that although the mainland signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and provisions for refugees were included in domestic law, Hong Kong has instead firmly resisted its extension to the territory (Loper, 2010). Nonetheless, the city is a signatory to the 1984 Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), and a two-track asylum screening system is available to refugees. On the one hand, UNHCR performs refugee screening. On the other, the Hong Kong Government assesses claims under article 3 of CAT, which prohibits the removal of a person to the country where s/he would face torture or other cruel treatment. In spite of its potential to minimise mistakes, this bifurcated asylum reality has been said to give rise to procedural confusion, delays and a wasteful duplication of resources. In fact, refugees’ concurrent or sequential reliance on both mechanisms, affects the understandings of asylum seeking. Additionally, public policy is shaped by Hong Kong’s memory of dramatic mainlander and Vietnamese refugee inflows in the past (Vecchio, forthcoming). The government has repeatedly asserted that were Hong Kong to accede to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the city would be flooded by waves of illegal migrants posing as asylum seekers to gain entrance and exploit local prosperity (see for example discussions in the Hong Kong Legislative Council, LG, 2011).
There are indications that this and other misconceptions are widespread in the community. A typical statement in this direction was made by scholar Victor Fung (2012), who recently alerted the readers of China Daily that waves of ‘economic migrants’ would inundate the city, working illegally to support their families back home. In his reply to UNHCR’s appeal, Fung warned that were Hong Kong to accede to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the territory would be doomed to ‘sink’ into the harbour and ‘drown’. However, the reasons why such a catastrophic scenario would inevitably unfold were not disclosed. As often happens (see Tao, 2009), the rationale supporting official propaganda on the formation of the Refugee Convention/illegal migration nexus is rarely elucidated, giving us the impression that certain beliefs have become so profoundly ingrained in Hong Kong’s mindset that they amount to tautological truths. While proponents offer no evidence to support the formulation of their views, any attempt to negate them is resisted no matter what evidence is presented to refute their validity.
Click “Read More” below for the full article
Washington DC – Radio Free Asia
May 16, 2013
Click here to read the English translation
University of Hong Kong “Refugee Experience”
May 16, 2013
The University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Comparative and Public Law (CCPL) within the Faculty of Law approached Vision First to organize a real life experiential learning opportunity for their students. Considered “a day in the life of an asylum advocate”, this opportunity is open to LLB, JD and LLM students who want to learn firsthand about asylum seekers and the challenges they face in Hong Kong. This practical experience will introduce law students to the challenges of seeking refuge from the prospective of aid workers, duty lawyers and refugees themselves. The goal is to expose future lawyers to the reality of asylum that for most remains a theoretical concept, far removed from the challenges and hardships of the process. Through this workshop, students will have a better idea of the struggles that refugees/CAT claimants face, as well as the work dedicated advocates do in the areas of refugee support, protection and rights.
In a city that refugees have described as “a prison without walls”, Vision First has emerged as the watchdog for refugee rights. Those who fear harm in their countries, turn to our organization to counter the structures of injustice and abuse that fetter their existence. Vision First’s leadership in advocacy was evidenced by the latest “March for Protection” in which 800 refugees, asylum seekers and torture claimants protested against a .02% protection rate in 21 years since the Convention Against Torture was extended to Hong Kong. With over 500 refugee members, Vision First is a unique organization where programs, classes and services are deployed to assist the most vulnerable individuals in society. Prohibited from working and provided with insufficient in-kind assistance and no financial aid, refugees scrape through to survive in our expensive city. Effectively reduced to a combination of begging (legally) and working (illegally) to eke out an existence, refugees are criminalized by draconian laws and demonized by government propaganda that brands them economic migrants at best, and criminals deserving deportation at worst. We will prove how grossly unreasonable, and therefore unlawful, this is.
The complexity of the refugee experience will be examined over three full days with the equivalent of 1.5 days spent with Vision First.
- 5 JUNE 2013, AM: Vision First’s centre. Students will be introduced to operations that serve over 50 members daily, including: Hong Kong’s only refugee shelter, case work, class schedule, donation networks, community participation programs, as well as paralegal, education, medical and counselling work. Supported by 90 volunteers who provided 15,000 hours of service in 2012, and distributing over 100,000 HKD in financial aid a month, Vision First is a vibrant agency that serves a vital role in the community.
- 5 JUNE 2013, PM: The second part of the day will be directed by a barrister who is well-known for his robust defense of torture claimants. He will expose the shortcomings of a screening mechanism that accepted only four cases in two decades. Examples will be given about duty lawyers who wholly failed their clients due to negligence in terms of legal representation and research. Case history will stress how important COI research is for effective representation and how issues of trust, trauma and PTSD challenge the recollection of events.
- 6 JUNE 2013, PM: A field trip to the shantytowns hundreds of refugees call home. The students will witness the squalid living conditions that are effectively government sponsored. Students will hear firsthand from refugees about the hardships refugees have endured while waiting in limbo for years, even a decade, as a “Culture of Rejection” frustrates their legitimate demands, in hopes refugees will give up and stop bothering Hong Kong’s affluent citizens and their indifferent administrators.
By the end, it is expected that a street-smart, accurate picture will emerge of an asylum process that is at odds with the lofty ideals students encounter in legal textbooks. This program is a valuable experience for tomorrow’s asylum lawyers – and possibly magistrates and judges – to learn how procedural failures tragically affect the lives of those our laws were enacted to protect. The responsibility will then be upon the participants themselves to influence the change they wish to see in our society.
A PDF of this article is available here and the call for application is here.