When the lawyer plays on the other team
December 10, 2013
In retrospect, it would have been better the Torture Convention hadn’t been extended to Hong Kong. An asylum system that doesn’t offer protection is as futile as a hospital that doesn’t treat. Among many players in this fake process, perhaps duty lawyers raise the greatest suspicion. These professionals ought to be on the refugee team, but make no secret of their true allegiance by failing to uphold clients’ rights.
A Pakistani Shia reported prejudiced Immigration interviews that will lead to the High Court in the wake of the judicial review reported last week. Mr. Sohail, a pseudonym, clashed with his duty lawyer Mr. S Ho who “was attacking me and biting me like a dog!” “He did not believe anything I was saying” added Sohail, “He did not want to consider the news articles and countless online videos of Shia killing by Sunni extremist while the police, army and government allow this to happen.”
Mr. Ho asked, “What do the Shia do to instigate this?” implying it cannot happen without provocation. The lawyer was skeptical that Shia are targeted at prayer and in the streets by religious terrorists. Ho stated, “I don’t believe you. If it is true, why didn’t they kill you?” Sohail was puzzled, “You want them to kill me so I can’t come to seek protection in Hong Kong? How can I come if I am dead?”
Ho went silent, then asked “Tell me about your enemy. What is the danger to you personally?” The refugee replied, “The danger is every day, everywhere for Shia. You cannot control who, when and where they will blow you up. 50 to 100 can be killed in a day. In Quetta a bomb blast killed 130”. The lawyer played the Immigration part by countering, “I don’t believe you. Give me the proof”.
Sohail spoke for four hours about the reality in Pakistan, “Every day we have target killing of Shia. Three days before a college professor Jilbani was assassinated and his bodyguard was critically injured. Last week a Shia army officer had his neck cut and was hung from a bridge in Karachi. Who am I without a bodyguard and army protection? I was born a Shia and it is acceptable to murder those like me.”
In exasperation Sohail pointed out, “It’s in the Hong Kong news. It’s on BBC, CNN and YouTube!” An indifferent Mr. Ho remarked, “I will not look at YouTube because these are the people making fake videos.” The refugee rightly countered, “Then look at the international news! Are these fake news?” At first DLS lawyer Mr. S Ho was lost for words. After an uncomfortable silence he stated categorically:
“I am your lawyer and I won’t help you with anything!”
It was a declaration of fact. Sohail knew he was doomed, “You are my lawyer and you say you will not help me? What can I do? You will torture me.” Justice was nailed inside a coffin of bias and prejudice and cast into the abyss. The defenseless refugee had lost hope for a fair chance, “If my lawyer won’t help me, this means my case is dismissed. I was a failed torture claimant before the interview started!”
The following day Mr. Sohail observed, “You should have seen this lawyer’s attitude. You see him one time and you want to beat him. He was a monster. He wasn’t human being. This is a challenge for me. I cannot accept that he treat me like this. I will fight him even if I have go to court.” He concluded, “I will go to the newspapers and TV to complaint that the duty lawyers torture people. There do not advise or assist claimants, but enjoy doing the dirty work of Immigration Department.”
It widely accepted by refugees that the better duty lawyers say nothing, while the bad ones directly attack claimants with more prejudice than Immigration officers. Sohail noted, “They want to push the interviews to reject everyone. They only want to go fast, fast, fast and make finish. They won’t help even to gather country information. The DLS officer told me to make a CD with the videos, even after I told him it cost 600$ and I cannot work.” Sohail reports that DLS CLO B Fung blurted, “You make it!”
Sohail is profoundly outraged by a process that fails asylum claims no matter the merits. With bitterness he concluded, “I was there begging, crying, but nobody was listening to me. Deadline! Deadline! This is the only thing they understand and nobody wants to hear your case. It is totally a game inside, like a fake system that will refuse everyone. There is no justice in the Immigration torture screening.”
“It is totally a game inside” he observed, “like a fake system that will never accept any case no matter how strong. Every day in Kowloon I hear huge complaints against Duty Lawyer Service and their lawyers. Nobody knows what to do. We should arrange a press conference to expose this injustice. How can I change my lawyer? Why are there rubbish lawyers who don’t understand about the Shia and don’t know my country? Why you cannot pick your interpreter? Why did they give me a Sunni interpreter?”
Sohail’s final question is the hardest to answer: “Why can’t you choose your lawyer?”
Thank you, Ng Teng Fong Charitable Foundation
December 9, 2013
UNHCR struggles to find a new role
December 8, 2013
Yesterday we met a citizen who generously supports Vision First. He reported a disturbing conversation with Ms. Nazneen Farooqi, protection officer at UNHCR Hong Kong. Upon talking about the refugee situation in the city, reference was made to VF and Ms. Farooqi remarked:
“Vision First … they are not a nice charity!”
We have taken legal advice that this amounts to a defamatory statement. There is no factual basis for Ms. Farooqi to have made such a malicious comment. Is it because Ms. Farooqi is unhappy with donations going to grassroots charities as opposed to UNHCR?
Donation to UNHCR will fund colossal expenses before reaching destitute refugees.
Consider this: How did UNHCR spend 30 million HK$ raised in 2012? What is Ms. Farooqi’s salary in relation to Vision First’s pro bono work? Does Ms. Farooqi and her staff do any pro bono work, or work on weekends? How does her housing allowance compare with 1200$ rent assistance for refugees? Why does UNHCR Hong Kong refuse to post detailed financial statements online? We could continue, but you get the picture.
In January UNHCR cancelled a 500 HK$ cash allowance to penniless refugees. (here)
Ms. Farooqi has asked lawyers to send in some asylum seekers for their cases to be reconsidered and reopened. However those lawyers have found that those clients were turned away. UNHCR is one their way out of Hong Kong. The Court of Final Appeal found that their screening was marred with procedural improprieties and failed to meet high standards of fairness.
Vision First has doubts about UNHCR officers who live well, sleep well, eat well and are most certainly paid well. They have a good life. They work from 9 to 5 and don’t care what happens to refugees after office hours. If they did they would counter blatant abuses! Did Ms. Farooqi ever visit asylum seekers in the slums? Aren’t these the persons of concerns she is paid to protect? Citizens should interview refugees and find out how much compassion dwells in their hearts.
UNHCR opposes Vision First because refugees complain to us. UNHCR are enforces of refugee protection, we are protectors of refugees. As enforcers, UNHCR necessarily excludes, while Vision First includes. They fail to uphold rights and we condemn such arrogant indifference and injustice. In final analysis, we are ecstatic with the court judgment that shut down UNHCR a year after we expressed our views here.
The courts deemed UNHCR’s work illegal, but have no power to expose their secret finances.
Keep up the fight
December 7, 2013
Dear Vision First -
I recently spoke with refugees from the Vine Church.
This is their impression concerning Vision First compared to other NGOs.
There is only VF that God can use to deliver them.
I asked them why you refused to support VF in the March for Protection.
They said their pastor preached that VF is trying to bring revolt in the life of refugees vs. HKSAR.
The pastor said that they should wait upon God.
And I said, What do you think about that preaching?
They replied that if refugees are FREED then Christian Action and the Vine will have no jobs.
We see how NGOs are against Vision First.
It was by revolution that God delivered Israel from the hands of the Pharaoh.
It was by revolution in the churches that Martin Luther King said “I have a dream!”
Don’t be discouraged Vision First.
Keep up the fight – we are with you!!!
A victory against prejudiced torture screening
December 5, 2013
Great news for refugees! Another High Court judgment vouches in favour of refugees by quashing the Immigration Director’s determination and adjudicator’s decision to reject a Pakistani torture claimant due to procedural improprieties that failed to display a high standard of fairness.
In this judicial review victory a Pakistani man succeeded in challenging blank rejections which many refugees apparently experience while they desperately try to make their reason heard before skeptical authorities unwilling to see the obvious. That’s the only explanation for Hong Kong having recognized just 11 victims of torture out of over 13,000 claimants in 21 years.
The judgment blames the authorities for failing to make sufficient inquiry into country conditions and the seriousness of sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia in Pakistan. A finger is pointed at the unreasonableness of denying there was no instigation or acquiescence on the part of the state. Most rejected refugees have heard Immigration say, “There was no state involvement”.
There is an implied obligation of non-refoulement protection “where the danger emanates from persons who are not public officials when the State authorities are not able to obviate the risk by providing appropriate protection” That is victims cannot turn to the police for protection.
The hard questions are: Is there a breakdown in law and order resulting in an inability of citizens to obtain protection from authorities? Did the state do enough to protect the victim and ensure their safety? That is state acquiescence, knowingly standing by without countering the infringement of human rights – an act familiar to those who observe Hong Kong civil society.
Further, the judgment criticizes the Immigration assessor and adjudicator for failing to proactively seek information relevant to the case. A fair process indeed requires that decision makers at both tiers ‘do not sit back and passively preside over an adversarial process’. They must have regard to additional materials for a more complete picture of a country’s conditions than what claimants might provide.
There were errors of law by the adjudicator who erroneously concluded that the refugee had not established that he was in danger on the basis that his past suffering were minor and did not amount to torture. Again these are rejection grounds often state in predictable, boiler-plate Immigration rejections.
Finally, doubt is cast upon the skills of officers who frequently reach unreasonable generic conclusions such as ‘there is no indication the Pakistan authorities would fail to discharge their duties or tolerate any unlawful and abusive behaviour’, despite the evidence proving otherwise. Such negative decisions before objectively unambiguous evidence can rightly be deemed “unqualified” and “unreasonable”.
Vision First is gravely concerned that rejections are handed down without due assessment of the evidence submitted, to the prejudice not only of claimants, but of due process and rule of law in Hong Kong.
It should be noted in pass that this case raises serious doubts about the standards of the Duty Lawyer Service (DLS) representative who advised this claimant at first instance and, presumably, at appeal.
The government might regret acceding to the Convention against Torture, yet persecution victims have fundamental rights to non-refoulement under Hong Kong constitutional law. The government might not welcome refugees, yet they have a right to protection and welfare assistance while waiting.
A covert Culture of Rejection is no justification to place refugee lives in the hands of officers who make unreasonable assessments that affect the entire legality of the process and bring shame to the system.
The torture screening mechanism has already been judged unfair on two occasions. Is the government unable or unwilling to establish a fair and credible screening process? Should refugee policies be formulated and carried out by short-sighted, prejudiced and unreasonable assessors? Is this the reputation that Hong Kong wishes to enjoy?