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.
Feeding Hong Kong charity spotlight – Thousands of people are forced to flee their homes every year, abandoning all they know and love to escape persecution. Scared, traumatised and in desperate need of aid, they arrive friendless in countries around the world, including Hong Kong. Vision First, which is based in Sai Ying Pun, works to ensure that they don’t remain friendless for long, stepping in to help feed, clothe and house these people as, now safe, they begin a new journey to rebuild their lives. Refugees cannot remain in Hong Kong and are resettled in another country once their claim for asylum has been processed. That can take several years and, finding a permanent country to call home, even longer. Refugees are not allowed to work. The government instead provides HK$1,200 for rent that is paid directly to landlords, limited groceries every 10 days and transport money. An additional HK$500 monthly allowance from the U.N. is due to end in June.
“With Feeding Hong Kong’s assistance, we can provide more food support to members,’’ said Cosmo Beatson, executive director at Vision First. “They often joke with reports about how `three tomatoes, two potatoes and a chicken’ have to last them for 10 days. FHK’s assistance helps everyone – and especially families – to supplement the little they receive.” Vision First supports more than 500 of these victims of circumstance, about 10 percent of the city’s refugee community. The charity offers practical aid such as food, shelter in the city’s only emergency accommodation for refugees, and access to doctors. Financial support of over HK$100,000 per month is also offered to families struggling to meet daily living expenses, while skills-enhancing workshops teach Cantonese, English, computing and other subjects to improve education and boost morale.
Volunteers form the backbone of Vision First’s efforts. Some 96 individuals committed their time to the charity last year, giving more than 15,000 hours to improve the lives of refugees. Feeding Hong Kong supplies Vision First and its beneficiaries with a delivery of mixed groceries every two weeks. The food is delivered to Vision First’s drop-in centre in Sai Ying Pun, helping the charity bolster the meals of refugees around the city and those staying in its shelter. “Your supplies provide bread, cereals, canned food and easy meals for those who have nothing but a bag to their name,’’ said Beatson. “When they move on to their own place, we are often told how the shelter was home, a safe place when they had none and a warm meal when they were hungry – FHK helps us make the difference.”
Community Service Hours:
In April 2013, Vision First members completed 269 service hours in 72 roles.
New partners and service types:
From May to August, Vision First members will be participating in the following activities:
- SKH Lady Maclehose Service for Ethnic Minorities: English tutoring on every Mon, Tue and Thu
- Rock Foundation: Music and dance class for teenagers with minor development problems on every Thu
- HK Red Cross Youth Service “Greenius Project”: This is a project to help high-risk drug abusers in secondary schools.
A few Vision First members will tell about their positive attitude to deal with hardship in HK
Some VF musicians will be sharing African music with them
Some VF family members will be invited to be “served” by the teenagers with desserts they make
- Old Friend Star elderly service: Some musicians and members will play music for elderly living in hospices
- HK Red Cross World Red Cross Day Event on 16 June at Coastal Defense Museum
Two Vision First members will share their stories in HK.
Some VF musicians will play their home country music
- Yuen Long Town Hall summer course (July – August):
Some Vision First ladies will teach cooking and handcrafts
Some VF musicians will teach music and play their songs.
- New courses at Rock Foundation: planning in progress
Evaluation in progress:
- Assisted by HKU Master of Public Health practicum student, we will do more DASS (Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale) questionnaires and focused groups with VF members.
- Two evaluation workshops are planned to be held on 18 June and mid July to collect opinions of members who have participated / heard about our project
- We plan to collect all data by the end of June and do the analysis in July
- With the evaluation results, we can write up lessons learnt, challenges, recommendations and action for the next phase
The Court of Final Appeal’s recent decisions in C & Ors v Director of Immigration and Ubamaka Edward Wilson v Secretary for Security and Director of Immigration pave the way for the creation of a unified screening mechanism to protect refugees and others who fear serious human rights violations if returned to their countries. Incorrect determinations of these claims could lead to dire consequences – even death or torture – for the claimants and the courts have held that such a system must therefore meet high standards of procedural fairness. One critical element of fairness in this context is the provision of quality legal representation.
In this seminar, Kelley Loper will report the results of a Public Policy Research Project (funded by the Hong Kong Research Grants Council) that examined models of legal representation and legal aid for asylum seekers in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Researchers collected and compared data from all five jurisdictions and have identified several issues and recommendations based on these results. It is hoped that the study’s findings will contribute to informed discussions about developments in Hong Kong going forward.
Kelley Loper is an Assistant Professor and serves as Director of the LLM in Human Rights Programme, Deputy Director of the Centre for Comparative and Public Law (CCPL), Co-convener of Diversity Studies, and Co-Editor in Chief of the Asia-Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law at the University of Hong Kong. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre, an organization that provides legal services to asylum seekers. Click here to see the flyer.
Wednesday, 15 May 2013
12:30 – 1:30pm
Academic Conference Room, 11/F
Cheng Yu Tung Tower
The University of Hong Kong
Dear Friends -
This past year has witnessed Vision First’s evolution from humanitarian agency into a force for change. We took the lead in advocating for refugee rights, addressing discrimination and challenging those who withhold justice. Our work proved that simply applying ‘band-aid’ solutions fails to address the underlying hardships that refugees encounter. And yet, advocacy is like looking in a mirror. A commitment to social justice connects us deeply with people in need, enabling us to appreciate our shared humanity at its deepest level. Vision First takes pride in its profound respect for those we serve. We are the ears that listen to their cries, the eyes that witness their suffering, the arms that stop their fall and, most importantly, we are the voice that speaks loudly for those who have none.
Our team’s motivation stems from personal introspection: what if we feared returning to our homeland and struggled to survive, despairing about the future? The human need for security, hope and happiness is universal. However, some people are denied the most basic of human rights. They are trampled by evil wickedness such as ethnic cleansing, genocide, religious purges and despotic regimes outshining each other in disregard for life. Most victims vanish in the abyss of unrecorded history, while a few reach Hong Kong with narratives unfit for print – these are the individuals we call refugees. The journey of life may be similar, but the situations people encounter are vastly different.
The forces of globalisation that enrich our lives are the same that carry refugees to our doorstep. We recognise that humanity is becoming increasingly interconnected, which means that while enjoying the good, we cannot avoid dealing with the bad. We should not cease to care for those who are less fortunate – irrespective of their origin. This is a fundamental ethical principle for global citizens who believe in universality, non-discrimination and the common good of the human family. As Hong Kong citizens, we have a unique privilege and responsibility to assist those seeking international protection here. This is the inclusive perspective that shaped the results we are pleased to present in this Annual Report 2012. Thank you for supporting Vision First with your professionalism, dedication and generous donations.