Vision First welcomes the opportunity to defend itself against a legal attack by Christian Action with a defamation suit in the High Court of Hong Kong.
Vision First operates as an organization providing humanitarian assistance, advocacy and activism in advancing public awareness of the plight of asylum seekers in Hong Kong.
This mandate also extends to insisting upon transparency and accountability of government and other stakeholders in society involved with and impacting upon refugees and refugee rights and interests.
Any attempt to gag or censor our website is a direct attack on Vision First, fundamental freedom of expression as is protected under Hong Kong’s constitution. The present defamation lawsuit brought by Christian Action against Vision First also threatens to silence the voice and opinions of asylum seekers being the most vulnerable members of Hong Kong society.
As such, we publish these preliminary statements in support of publications made on the Vision First website.
Welcome to the Removal Assessment Section
April 24, 2014
The news of a Somali journalist losing faith in Hong Kong and returning to war-torn Mogadishu has spread around the world. His decision further discredits Hong Kong Immigration’s reputation tarnished by its dismal protection rate: 11 recognized victims of torture out of 13,000 applications in 22 years.
Such a risible protection rate fails to instill confidence in those who come to Hong Kong believing in its rule of law and respect for human rights. It appears that “Brand Hong Kong” has excelled at elevating the city’s status adhering to the Golden Rule – who holds the gold makes the rules..
A class struggle divides the ruling elite from the “undeserving”, those incompetent enough to be poor, wretched to be ethnic minorities, nauseatingly ill, annoyingly handicapped, unattractively old, tolerated by special visas (FDH, import labour) and the greatest pariahs of globalization: asylum seekers and refugees.
Vision First laments the culture of rejection that contaminates all government departments and the fake NGOs that do the authority’s bidding, never putting themselves on the line to address social injustice. It is more fun and safer to side with the powerful than champion the cause of the “underserving”.
The Immigration Department underwent some major changes recently that might turn out to be cosmetic. It is said that the proof of the cake is in the eating, so by year end we shall see if the department will recognize those few refugees previously accepted by the ousted UNHCR.
Vision First was shocked to learn that the Immigration Department renamed the branch that determines the now unified protection claims. Last summer the government referred to it as the “Special Assessment Section” (neutral meaning), but suddenly “Removal Assessment Section” (deterrent meaning) appeared on Immigration letterhead.
This name implies that rejection of asylum claims is the aim of the assessment and protection not a guiding principle. The appellation reflects a position in line with an authoritarian regime and implies non-refoulment protection does not exist – not in name, or spirit, or in the mind of assessors.
The Removal Assessment Section sends an undesirable deterrent message. It implies that asylum seekers are to be treated like trash, as “undeserving” elements bent on abusing the system for unjustified reasons and as such must be removed as expeditiously as possible. It isn’t implausible that staff promotion will based on successful removal rates.
Hong Kong Government should be ashamed of the “Removal Assessment Section”. The name is biased. The designation is tainted and damages both the intention and spirit of the Convention against Torture. Such a name dehumanizes asylum seekers, perpetuates caustic myths about their agency and sends a message that they will not be treated fairly.
The naming is a mistake. It takes too far the securitization of borders by instilling fear in vulnerable people who might – imagine that! – be fleeing war, torture, violence, torture or persecution.
What happened to giving the benefit of doubt? What happened to a level playing field? What happened to court instructions against ‘antagonistic behaviour’ by Immigration officers?
Hong Kong could look at Canada that calls it the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (“IRB”).
Chinese refugees seeking safety in Hong Kong (1939)
April 23, 2014
Ernest Kao writes for the South China Morning Post on 22 April 2014
Rather the threat of death than meagre existence as an asylum seeker, persecuted newsman says
An experience of the worst in humanity was not what Ibrahim Mohamed Hussein expected when he touched down in Hong Kong eight months ago, fresh from persecution in Africa.
On his flight to the city, the Somali journalist was clutching desperately at a remote hope of seeking asylum protection.
Now Hussein, 36, just wants to return to his war-torn homeland in two weeks. A man hardened by life-threatening risks reporting on the front lines of East Africa, he has chosen not to put up with any further “destitution” in the city he had once hoped to call home.
“I begged [for Hong Kong] to let me become a refugee,” the former director with Somali broadcaster Universal TV says. “But it’s not easy here. I’ve tried going two days without eating anything.
“If I will starve to death here, I would rather go back to Somalia and die at home.”
Hussein has already cheated death once – after he was kidnapped by Islamist insurgents in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu in 2009. Only a last-minute phone call to relatives secured his release with an US$18,000 ransom.
He later escaped to Uganda and then to Kenya, joining an exodus of African journalists from their home countries fleeing violence and intimidation, which was identified in a report by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
“You know Mogadishu? They call it the most dangerous place in the world,” he says. The capital was seized by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militia in 2009.
“Some of the people I worked with are no longer alive, or are missing,” he adds, pointing to a photograph of his old news crew.
But eights months of squalor at slum-like accommodation in Hong Kong was not the life he had anticipated, either.
On his return to Somalia, Hussein says he will face the threat of death. “I am scared for my life. But I have no options.”
Like many of the 4,700 asylum seekers in the city, Hussein has been living on a fixed amount of food and a measly government allowance of HK$1,500 a month for accommodation.
“Do you know what it is like to live like this? Not even being able to get a cup of tea? Not being able to work?” he asks, referring to a February ruling by the city’s top court upholding a government ban on allowing refugees to work.
Cosmo Beatson, executive director of refugee rights group Vision First, says: “Protection without being given economic rights is not protection but an illusion. Protection means giving someone their life back, not making it worse.”
Beatson says the government should rescind its agreement to the UN Convention Against Torture if it is not planning on accepting asylum seekers.
Hong Kong is a signatory to that convention, but not the UN Refugee Convention.
“From 1992 to 2013, the government has received 13,000 torture claims but approved only 11,” he says.
Many pack up and leave when they cannot put up with the wait of, in some cases, more than 10 years to be granted asylum as their passports will expire, rendering them stateless and unable to travel, he says. “There’s no way back and no way forward for them. There’s only dismay.”
The Social Welfare Department says it monitors the assistance level to claimants and will make adjustments as necessary.