Refugee Union (RU) has already started getting busy in 2018. On 8 January, Refugee Union held its monthly meeting for members and visitors, and last weekend, RU resumed classes for children and adults.
We are grateful for all the donations of warm jackets, blankets, and diapers that have come in so far, and could always use more! Keep the donations coming. Most importantly, cash donations are needed to support existing programs for refugees, like our cultural diversity playgroup and language classes, as well as to fund new programs in 2018. There is still much to improve. Refugees have essential skills to share and develop, and your support will not only assist refugees, but the greater Hong Kong population as well. Human rights such as affordable housing, food, and child support remain incredibly difficult for refugees in Hong Kong to access.
Please consider making a cash donation to Refugee Union – we would be deeply grateful, and it will go a long way to supporting the refugee community here in Hong Kong. You can email us as at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more, and to donate. Thank you!
“HONG KONG HOLDS REFUGEES IN A STATE OF CONTEMPT”
On 17 November 2015, the Permanent Secretary for Security, Joshua Law, delivered the Hong Kong Government’s report to the United Nations’ Committee Against Torture, in Geneva Switzerland. In our view, it was a narrow and biased self-appraisal that conspicuously overlooked widespread criticism and growing concerns about the fairness of the city’s asylum process.
Mr. Law articulated a very good case on behalf of the Government of Hong Kong, stating that “The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) has always strived to protect human rights and the requirements and commitments under the Convention against Torture … and other international human rights instruments”.
Further, he surprisingly assured the Committee that Hong Kong “exceeded the requirements under Article 3 of the UN Convention against Torture.” The report by Mr. Law highlighted another achievement: the provision of “humanitarian assistance to all the claimants (accommodation, food, clothing and other basic necessities, transportation and utilities allowances, medical services and education for minors).”
The Refugee Union maintains that the report is not only misleading, but also dishonest. It demonstrates to what length the Government is willing to go to project an image of a perfect “John be good” with the international community that has little direct knowledge or experience of asylum in this city. It is indeed disappointing that the Government’s rosy picture is entirely disconnected from reality, measured according to unpublished standards and unrated by agencies charged with investigating government performance.
Since the USM was launched in March 2014, it has failed to address the shortcomings it arguably intended to fix. The mechanism is no better at protecting refugees than previous systems deployed since 1992, when Hong Kong signed the UN Torture.
Convention – in twenty-three years Hong Kong substantiated 37 of over 18,000 asylum claims. The abysmal acceptance rate speaks volumes about the contempt in which refugees are held.
The politics behind USM have instead been successful in promoting the divisive terminology of “fake/genuine” refugees which has been regrettably manipulated by the media into public discourse. Rather than honestly analyzing its own failures and weakness, the Government has vigorously engaged in a massive propaganda to discredit refugees in the eyes and minds of the local community.
This strategy however might not be convincing for everyone. In fact, many Hong Kong citizens have become increasingly curious and interested in refugees and are asking very relevant questions. The Refugee Union has been interviewed hundreds of times especially by graduate students who find it perplexing how refugees are treated. We are asked: Why is the acceptance rate so low? Why are you banned from working? How do you support yourself with inadequate welfare? How does it feel to live such a hard life? How do you survive without hope for the future?
The Security Bureau through its periodic reports to Legco frequently emphasizes that the Government of Hong Kong does not have a system in place to screen refugees, since it is not party to the UN Refugee Convention. Therefore the Government is not obliged to recognize refugees, nor does it integrate them into society. Instead they should be removed from Hong Kong as soon as practicable. This is very confusing. On the one hand, the Government says it does not have a screening system in place, but on the other, it says that the USM performs such a role. It is no wonder that more and more journalism students are approaching refugees striving to make sense of harmful policies and the reality they witness through speaking to refugees.
The Government report claims that Hong Kong exceeds the requirements of the UN Torture Convention without specifying exactly what it does to meet the needs of refugees. To start, the welfare provided is grossly inadequate and can hardly sustain us. With an unrealistic rental assistance of HK$ 1500 and food coupons worth HK$ 1200 a month, which do not meet our basic needs, how can we make ends meet? It is simply impossible to secure basic accommodation for that price in one of the most expensive cities in the world. The majority of refugees live in squalid conditions crammed together in dilapidated buildings and slums.
There is absolutely no provision for clothes/shoes among other basic necessities. However refugees are forced to sign monthly contracts with ISS-HK stating that we receive clothes and shoes from the Government. It is not surprising that many refugees are forced to resort to risky behavior to bridge the gap left intentionally open by Government failure.
Some refugees provide cheap labor to the underground economy, others might push drugs, engage in prostitution, steal, beg and lie to survive under harsh and prohibited conditions. It is shameful that refugees resort to such survival strategies. But what other options are available to us? It is dishonest for the Government to present such a polished self-satisfying report when it actually fails to safeguard the health and wellbeing of eleven thousand refugees who live in abject destitution.
Education poses another challenge for refugees. The system requires parents to pay schools fees in advance each month before being partially refunded by the Education Bureau. Where are parents expected to obtain this money upfront? Public funding does not include the waver of kindergarten costs, an essential step for children to learn Cantonese. Is this another measure devised to force our social isolation?
Refugees do not enjoy basic human rights as the Government assures the United Nations. In fact, we suffer high levels of discrimination, marginalization and harassment. The Refugee Union strongly objects to the Government assertion that it exceeds its responsibilities in protecting refugees. We hereby invite Committee members to travel unofficially to Hong Kong to gather first-hand data.
The Government’s report to the UN Committee against Torture leaves a bitter taste.
28 December 2015.
The Refugee Union is in talks with Urban Refugees (France) www.urban-refugees.org
URBAN REFUGEES was created in November 2012 as a French NGO. Its mission is to improve the lives of urban refugees and IDPs in developing countries by supporting refugee led-organizations in urban settings, by facilitating networking between key stakeholders and by advocating at the policy level.
Until now, our activities focused on raising the profile of urban displacement situations using online tools, building key partnerships with organizations including the UNHCR Urban Refugee Task Team (URTT) and gathering civil society organizations, academics and experts into a central network.
The Incubator project will be our first program in the field. Upon completion of those 4 first incubation programs, a thorough evaluation will be conducted and the program will be replicated to serve other refugee-led organizations. Incubation of refugee organizations outside camps will become the main activity of our organization.
We have two branches, one in the USA (New York) and one in France (Paris). Each brand has its own Board of Directors. An executive committee brings together directors from the French and USA branch for strategic decisions.
Refugee Union was honored by a visit from the Ajuntament de Barcelona, Mr Miquel Mateu Balleste (Programme Director – Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Spain
Mr Mateu found Refugee Union through the internet and says ” I was very much impressed by what your Organization is doing to help asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong”
After following us on face book he decided to come and visit us in the office during one of his tours in the Asia Pacific region. “The city of Barcelona has opened its doors to the refugees who are running away from torture and wars” Mr Mateu continued.
He commended the Refugee Union and Vision First for our role in defending the rights of refugees in Hong Kong. “I will come back soon with other People who are willing and ready to work with you in helping refugees all the World”. He said.
Refugee Union promised him that we will vigorously continue to advocate for a comprehensive policy change on refugees in Hong Kong to enable them to live in dignity and respect as human beings. This includes but not limited to RIGHT TO WORK, A CREDIBLE and OBJECTIVE SCREENING PROCESS or FULL WELFARE PROVISION in the absence of Right to Work among others.
Photo with Mr. Miquel Mateu, Director de Programa Àsia-Pacífic, Programme Director Asia-Pacific, Direcció de Relacions Internacionals, Department of International Relations, Ajuntament de Barcelona, Spain