Dear Vision First Community,
I just want to thank everyone who supported me in many ways, wishing me all the best on my journey from HK back to the Republic of Congo and Kenya. I finally arrived in Adelaide, Australia on the 11 of January. (After 2 months of paperwork, waiting, corruption and several setbacks!) The wonderful Kenny’s family met me here. So far, so good. The family has made sure to choose the right pathway for me to settle in life in Australia. I went to the TAFE orientation dates on the 25-27 of January And I’m going to start school next Monday. Now I’m at the school dormitory no worry at all. There are foods and essential utilities for a daily life.
My HUGE thanks starting with Peter and Connie Kenny, for the initiative of having me join the College as YES scholarship student (Youth Empowerment Scheme) in 2008. Through all this, I also know that Jesus loves me very much. Thanks to Dr. Harry Brown who gave me a brand new MacBook Pro before heading home. It kept me warm company all way home on the flight. And it has decreased my worries about what was going to happen with me while meeting the HK Immigration on the day of my departure. I cannot cite all of your names, the gifts, that you have donated, your funds, prizes, Prayers of each individuals and Pastor, your time and your effort. Katherine Bignold thanks for raising this much money for me to study and live in Australia. Those who have sent their best wishes to help me as a penniless guy, who came to Renaissance College in Ma On Shan, without anything. But you have changed my life in a very short time.
I have overcome so much adversity with the help of lots of fabulous people just like you! I’m very emotional today! Although I have made it to Australia, I know that challenges never end in life. I’ll remain honest with you in the future when I face difficulties here in terms of funds to complete the (RN) Register Nursing Qualification course. As now I’m going to start a programme of Aged Care for six months then, enroll in a Diploma of Nursing for 1.5 years. All together I will study for two years. If possible I could then go to University to do two more years to have the RN Degree. I’m sure it will happen and God will provide.
Also, I’d like to say this. The 5th and the 4th floors in the RCHK College you are very powerful offices. I have seen so many things during the six years I have been in HK. I could even write a book in the future. But you all have make these into small issues and helped out. Look how you all have changed my life. Jackie my counselor, although you are not there anymore but you are in my heart all the time thanks so much. Don you have made a huge positive impact into my life and I’m going to see you soon. Of course, Danielle Stutterd of Vision First in Hong Kong, thanks for so many things! Without missing my English teacher Dee Morgan otherwise I won’t be able to write this much English.
Again, many thanks to the entire Vision First Community!!
1. “Removal Orders” (RO) are issued by the Immigration Department (ImmD) and do not require your signature to become effective. It doesn’t matter whether you sign or not. The RO remains in force until it is either cancelled or withdrawn. The document ImmD asks you to sign is the “Notice of Removal Order and Right of Appeal” (the Notice). This informs you that you have the right to appeal against the RO within 24 hours.
2. Whether you sign the Notice is not important, but you must appeal within 24 hours by filing the “Notice of Appeal” to object to the RO or you may lose the right to seek a judicial review in future. Later you could say “I didn’t know I should have signed” or “I didn’t know that I could have appealed”. But, these excuses won’t be accepted as an interpreter explained the situation and you signed that you understood what was said.
3. If you don’t appeal, you will lose your right to do so later. If you do appeal, your appeal will be dealt with by the Immigration Tribunal and, in normal circumstances, will be dismissed without a hearing.
4. If your appeal is dismissed, ImmD will give you a “Notice of Dismissal”.
5. Therefore, strictly speaking, the RO will be in force no matter whether you signed it or not. If you sign the Notice that simply means: a) you understand you have the rights to appeal, b) you have been informed you must do so within 24 hours.
6. There is no time limit to effect the “removal”. According to the court, it must be as soon as possible and within a “reasonable period”.
7. However, as most asylum-seekers made a CAT claim and/or registered with UNHCR, it is ImmD policy not to remove these people until their cases have been determined and closed.
8. In the past, most asylum-seekers were detained at CIC pending CAT determination. Since the case of “A & Others”, the court obliged ImmD to release claimants on recognizance if they could not be removed within a “reasonable period”. As CAT and UNHCR cases took a long time to assess, the court took the view that people should be released on recognizance (i.e. Immigration Paper) instead of being detained.
9. However, if ImmD believes CAT and/or UNHCR cases might be completed within a “reasonable period”, they can refuse to release those detained in CIC. This is why some people with valid claims remain in detention and some families are split between release and detention. Recently, many CAT claimants are detained again since they refused to attend the screening interview, or refused to complete the Questionnaire, or failed to sign bail, etc. Note: if you fail to attend two screening interviews or return the completed 72Q within 28 days – your CAT claim will be automatically closed.
10. It is not only the RO which eliminates the claimant’s rights to work, although those papers are used as a further reminder and deterrent. Even those who don’t have a valid visa, such as tourists or students, cannot work despite not having a RO. Whether you have the rights to work is subject to the condition of stay.
11. In principle, ImmD cannot use force to remove you. They cannot tie you up and put you on a plane (or use injections as some rumours circulate). These are commercial planes with other passengers. If you refuse to board the plane or don’t cooperate, the pilot will refuse you onboard and ask ImmD to take you back. ImmD officers will not escort you back to your country. Besides, destination agreements are required before departure if your passport has expired, which is often the case.
12. ImmD will then take you back to Ma Tau Kok and CIC later. A few weeks later, they will try to send you back again. One failed CAT claimants has already been detained 9 months at CIC and still refuses to go back. However, ImmD will refuse to release you unless there is change of circumstances and they consider granting bail (i.e. you have a judicial review challenging the Removal Order or Deportation Order). At this point the RO is proper, unless you already married a HK citizens and have a family, in which case you can apply for a judicial review on other grounds.
13. When CAT and UNHCR have been refused, it’s difficult to object to a RO. If you have valid reasons, then go to Court for a judicial review by either applying for Legal Aid or representing yourself. According to the law, you have to do this within 3 months from the Petition date. Otherwise you would have to seek an extension out of time, which is more difficult to get approval for. Since both the UNHCR RSD process and the CAT mechanism have taken their course, it is difficult to apply for a judicial review and obtain Legal Aid for its defense.
I am a Somalia national presently residing in Hong Kong as an Asylum seeker. And I firstly would like to thank Vision First and its administration for its continuing Humanitarian Support for the refugees and displaced people from Somalia. Somalia’s nationals are grateful to the Hong Kong Government and, particularly, the people of Hong Kong for their understanding and tolerance towards refugees. Regarding UNHCR it’s very clear that they are not doing much! I remember its chief, Antonio Guterres, informing that his agency hasn’t done enough to meet the needs of Somalis. So my expectation of the UNHCR was never high. In Hong Kong 85% of Refugee’s are from Somalia. Sometimes the one questions here is our human dignity. Where is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Is it just another labeling brand of words? We kindly request and ask good people to support us refugees with donations and any other possible means by assisting Vision First. The more you help Vision First, the more we have a chance to survive! Thank you very much Vision First for doing a great job. To UNHCR, we are safe here in Hong Kong but there are millions of refugees in camps without any means to survive, they are the ones who are a top priority. This does not mean that UNHCR’s moral responsibility is clear. They don’t explain where the millions go. Please everyone help us we are in danger of becoming homeless – please support Vision First – thank you.
What we does best is listen to members’ needs and design effective programs to meet those needs with available resources. The arrival of a cheerful and helpful hairdresser from the Horn of Africa enables VF to offer free haircuts on our rooftop. With the sponsorship of a local salon, we are happy to invite our members every Monday afternoon for haircuts and shaves, glad it saves 50 HK$ charged by the cheapest Chung King Mansion barbers. Thank you Team for making this happen! Perms and coloring will be next
Hong Kong prides itself on being a fair and caring society. We strive to provide equal opportunities for all and offer protection to those who cannot take care of themselves. But our safety net for the underprivileged and vulnerable has often been criticised as being too narrow, and the plight of refugees stranded in the city is a clear example. The government has yet to sign the 1951 United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees. But that does not stop foreign nationals in troubled regions from coming to the city to seek a better life. Yet the screening process is often slow and prone to abuse. The general ban on refugees working while waiting for overseas settlement adds to their misery. This year the situation has been made worse by substantial cuts in material support from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The UNHCR cites extra funding demands from a wide range of natural disasters and fierce conflicts last year, including flooding in Pakistan, a civil war in Ivory Coast and violent regime change resulting from the “Arab Spring”. The refugee agency’s Hong Kong Office says it is no longer in a position to continue providing adequate material assistance to recognised refugees in the city, numbering around 180. Although the government has sought to fill the gap and extended its humanitarian assistance programme to the refugees, it is understandable that refugee groups find the cuts unacceptable. There is a genuine concern that refugees may turn to crime if they are struggling to make ends meet. It is in the public interest that refugees, like other underprivileged groups, are given adequate support and are able to live with dignity while they wait for settlement elsewhere. Hong Kong needs better strategies to make it a truly fair and just society. The government can play a bigger role by signing the convention on refugees. Giving them the right to work in the meantime is also an option worth exploring.
John Carney writes on Feb 26, 2012 for the Sunday Morning Post (circulation 80,000)
The lives of refugees residing in Hong Kong have been thrown into further turmoil after the UN abruptly slashed the monthly allowance they receive to HK$300 – an 80 per cent cut. Despite receiving generous financial support from donors in Hong Kong, the cash-strapped United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees decided last month it could no longer afford to pay the HK$1,500 that 180 refugees living in the city were getting to help pay expenses. The Hong Kong government has stepped in to provide the recipients with HK$1,200 worth of food each, but refugees say the remaining cash payment falls far short of what they need to pay for rent, clothes, utilities and other essentials. Refugees, who spoke to the Sunday Morning Post on the condition that their names or countries were not identified, say the allowance cut has left them in a struggle to survive.
“I’m a recognised refugee and I will lose my room this week,” said one man from North Africa. “What can I do? Who can help me? I’m not a beggar.” Another refugee from central Asia said he was unable to pay his electricity and water bills and was “very, very desperate”. Activists’ anger over the cuts has been stirred by the fact that the UNHCR’s own website shows it received private contributions of HK$20 million from Hongkongers in 2010 and HK$16 million as of September 19 last year. ”What matters for refugee families is `dollars in hand’ – nothing else,” said Cosmo Beatson, executive director of Vision First, a non-governmental organisation working with local refugees. “The problem is not fund-raising, but the allocation of money trustingly donated by our fellow citizens. The big picture remains disingenuous.”
The UNHCR said funds raised in Hong Kong were used to support its humanitarian work around the world, which have stretched the body’s financial resources to the limit. It was therefore unable to continue its “material assistance” for refugees. ”My office had to secure an alternative source of support to refugees and approached the government for assistance,” said Choosin Ngaotheppitak, head of the UNHCR’s Hong Kong office. ”This [humanitarian assistance] programme is in line with the standards set by the government.” He said the government programme would also give refugees access to allowances for rental, utilities and clothing. These welfare services, however, were already available to refugees when the UNHCR was still paying them the full allowance.
Human rights lawyer Mark Daly believes the UNHCR is not doing enough. “They’re effectively caving in to a government programme here that doesn’t meet the standards that the UNHCR themselves think other countries should be meeting elsewhere,” he said. “You have to ask: what are they thinking?” The UNHCR’s global budget for this year will be a record US$3.59 billion and 93 per cent of its funding comes from government sources. It serves some 10.5 million refugees, half of them in Asia.
Who gets what
- Number of recognised refugees in Hong Kong - 180
- Number of (UNHCR) asylum seekers in Hong Kong - 486
- Amount donated to the UNHCR in Hong Kong in 2010 - HK$20 million
- Largest private donor – the Hong Kong Buddhist Association with US$271,337
- Cut to refugee’s HK$1,500 monthly payments - 80 per cent
- Saving to the UNHCR – HK$2,592,000 (paid by HKSAR for food rations)
Open Letter to the UNHCR Sub-Office at Hong Kong SAR:
Attn. Mr. Choosin Ngaotheppitak (Head of Sub-Office)
Dear Mr. Ngaotheppitak–
While we represent different organizations, our mandates are the same: to protect some of the most powerless and abused people on Earth – refugees. As a representative of Vision First in Hong Kong, but also as one human being to another, I ask you to consider this letter with your full attention and care.
We find the recent UNHCR documents deeply disturbing. In particular, we draw your attention to the following article (http://visionfirstnow.org/2012/01/29/where-did-these-unhcr-millions-go/) published on our website, which details the substantial sums raised by UNHCR from Hong Kong residents and yet also details UNHCR’s stunning reductions to the day-to-day financial aid of refugees in Hong Kong. The many comments that follow this posting are mainly from the people directly affected by UNHCR’s painful cuts, the refugees themselves.
A second, also disturbing, report is available at http://www.unhcr.org/4df1d0449.html. It is entitled, “Contributions to UNHCR for Budget Year 2011 as at 31 December 2011” and offers updated and relevant information about the UNHCR global receipts of USD 2.1 BILLION.
With the above in mind, the question rises: How can UNHCR so drastically reduce its support for refugees in Hong Kong (by a staggering 80%!) at such a difficult time for refugees while the UNHCR global receipts are at such high levels?
More to the point, and please correct me if I am mistaken: is it not true that the High Commissioner for Refugees (to whom you answer) should be working for the 193 United Nations member states? Since China, including the Hong Kong SAR, is one of these member states it follows that UNHCR carries out its operations also on behalf of the citizens of Hong Kong. Consequently, we, the staff of Vision First, our volunteers, supporters and donors, who are citizens of Hong Kong, have both the right to ask questions and the legitimate expectation to receive answers from your office.
Further, as refugees in Hong Kong were told their allowance was cut by 80% due to budget constraints, it is vital for us to understand clearly what financial difficulties UNHCR is facing that would force it to make cuts in aid to those who need it most desperately. We trust you will answer the following questions:
1. UNHCR has a global budget of USD 2,132,351,419 (received 2011); what is the Hong Kong budget spent for the well being of refugees?
2. China contributed USD 250,000 to UNHCR but Private Donors in China contributed USD 3,468,084 – how much came from Hong Kong donors? We assume the majority, as refugee concerns are not known to be a high priority for wealthy Mainlanders.
3. This page (http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/page?page=49e488026&submit=GO) reports donations from HK Private Sector as USD 2,140,421 as at 19 September 2011 – what was the total figure for last year?
4. Why aren’t the “Private Donors in Hong Kong” listed separately in the 2.1 Billion reported above? Are they aggregated with the “Private Donors in China”?
5. What was the fundraising target for Hong Kong UNHCR in 2011? What total amount was raised? These are relevant questions as your staff told refugees their allowance was cut “because we [UNHCR] didn’t receive enough donations in Hong Kong due to the economic crisis”. Isn’t either USD 2.1 million (if we accept the lower figure) or up to USD 3.4 million enough?
The following comments reflect our experience of UNHCR staff as they relate to refugees here in daily encounters.
6. Many times needy refugees have been told by your staff that they should seek aid rather from Christian Action and Vision First. Why does this happen? Speaking for Vision First, we received about USD 150,000 in donations or about 5% of your collection. In other words UNHCR Hong Kong is 20 times larger than Vision First: with greater funding for refugees goes the greater responsibility and capacity to help them.
7. In our experience, often members of your staff have told refugees, “Go sleep in the street!” (and have made other unacceptable comments). Do you know this is common practice? Do these staff members really represent UNHCR’s spirit and practice of care in Hong Kong?
The three families (A, B and C) below are known to both UNHCR and Vision First.
8. Family A: why did you cut this family’s budget from HKD 5,500 to HKD 1,200 knowing they are bound to a tenancy agreement and risk being evicted now?
9. Family B: why did you cut this family’s budget from HKD 4,250 to 1,200 when they have rent, household expenses and three children’s education to support?
10. Family C: the same damage was inflicted on this family, whose support was dropped from HKD 5,250 to 1,200 with no concern for how they might survive. Replacing food for cash doesn’t work, particularly when the food is worth half the price and is not what these families eat customarily. Don’t you realize the cash is always used for more than food? What do you think will happen to these families?
11. Where do you think these families and dozens of other refugees are going for help? How can NGOs even start to fill in the new shortfalls that your cuts have now created?
12. Why did your staff say all refugees agreed to the food-not-cash change after the November and December (2011) meetings when everyone there protested strongly?
13. Why does your staff appear to spread this kind of misinformation to those it is mandated to serve?
The forced choice of food over cash…
14. What was the point of your staff telling refugees that they had a choice between food and cash when you forced them to take food and refused providing funds in any case?
15. Do you realize that refusing funds to penniless refugees, while giving them unwanted food, can force them into the difficult situation where many are compelled to sell the food at perhaps a quarter of its price to unscrupulous operators?
16. Do you realize that refusing funds to penniless refugees may compel them to break the law in desperation by seeking black market work to provide for their families? Do you realize that there may be legal ramifications here for UNHCR?
And, if the relevant funds have gone, where have they gone?
17. What cost-saving measures were attempted in your office before you ordered your staff to resort to this drastic and potentially dangerous policy of cost cuts?
18. Were there salary increases in your office this year?
19. What happened to the USD millions you raised in Hong Kong?
20. Please publish an audit if UNHCR has nothing to hide.
As we all have the same objective – although you pursue yours as a duty to the member states of the United Nations and we pursue ours voluntarily out of compassion – I urge you to address the above questions in good faith. I hope we can overcome the difficulties that, we feel, have prevented UNHCR from serving the refugees Hong Kong in accordance with its mandate.