Refugees in Hong Kong
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In Hong Kong, I believe that refugees are a group that require much more help. The UN defines a refugee as “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster”. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum abroad from persecution."
However, whilst Hong Kong is a signatory to the convention against torture (which has led to hundreds of asylum claims), it has not yet become a signatory to the UN convention relating to the status of refugees. Refugees must go through a complicated legal process, discrimination and racism in Hong Kong while endlessly waiting for determination on international protection. Thousands of refugees live in limbo; forbidden to work legally.
As of early 2014, the Social Welfare Department determined that refugees are each entitled to receive a monthly housing allowance of $1500, and are entitled to receive food packages worth $1200. Neither allowance meets the basic living cost in Hong Kong. There is a massive wealth gap in Hong Kong, and so often refugees are ignored, or even worse, blamed as a burden to society. According to former government adviser Leo F. Goodstadt, “refugees and squatters were continually portrayed as threats to Hong Kong’s survival and governability. Officials insisted that any welfare or similar assistance provided for the newcomers would encourage further influxes.”
The first step I believe the community should take is to provide short-term aid to refugees that the government has abandoned without the support they need while awaiting a determination on their status – which frequently takes over five years. This means rallying around refugees to provide solutions by helping poverty-stricken members with raising public awareness, advocating for the rights of members, and providing for basic urgent needs such as food, shelter, clothing, educational services.
Centres should be opened, with the aim of providing basic needs and guiding refugees through the legal process. Shelters that are clean, safe, and comfortable should be opened for those desperately in need of a place to stay at whilst they figure out how to rent a room.
Finally, the local community should be well informed of the status of refugees in Hong Kong, and should be encouraged to understand and volunteer to help those in need. Once the refugees’ short term needs have been met, Hong Kong needs to help provide for the long-term needs of refugees. The government should be pressured to become responsible for refugees. We need to achieve a clear stance on refugee status in Hong Kong, and the excessive paperwork/bureaucracy should be cut down.
The ISS-HK, who is supposed to provide minimal welfare for refugees, is failing to do so, and refugees have even accused them of corruption- cheating refugees of their entitlements and colluding with food suppliers/landlords to oppress refugees. The SCMP has reported the ISS food package is 30% less value than what the government pays for, resulting in millions of dollars being cheated. Humane asylum policies should be advocated and implicated in Hong Kong.
Whilst this is an extremely complicated issue, with economical, technical, and political ties and complication, I believe that with the co-operation of the local community, we can truly change the system and make Hong Kong a better place for refugees.
Hong Kong is undeniably an affluent, developed society with the capacity and resources to take further action for refugees. As an international community member, Hong Kong has a well-deserved reputation for generosity, such as disaster relief and fund raising. We take pride in being a society with transparency, freedom of speech, and adherence to human right laws. Now, we should take action to carry out a social innovation project to help these refugees.