Refugees in Hong Kong
Refugees in Hong Kong are a small part of the city's population, having been granted residence in waves during past regional crises and in an extremely limited number of cases in the past decade.
Unified Screening Mechanism
Since 2014 the system for consideration of refugees and torture claims in Hong Kong is implemented under the common umbrella of the Unified Screening Mechanism and administrated by the Department of Immigration. Rejection of claims made by the department are subject to appeal before Hong Kong courts.
The rate of success of torture claims is low. By 2013, the Torture Claim Assessment Section by the Immigration Department assessed 4532 claims, of which only 12 were sustained as substantiated.
Asylum seekers are not allowed to work. However, a rental subsidy, food and medical care is provided by the city. Food packaged as parcels is supplied every 5-10 days. Publicly funded legal representation is provided for asylum seekers that are unable to afford hiring a lawyer.
The total cost of assistance to asylum seekers in the 2013-14 fiscal year was HK$450 million (about US$60 million).
The official government position as stated by an Immigration Department spokesperson in 2012 is Hong Kong has a "long-established policy of not granting asylum and we do not admit individuals seeking refugee status" citing fears that asylum seekers would abuse the system given the prosperity of the city's economy and liberal visa policy.
The 2013 Annual Report of the Immigration Department notes that most torture claims are filed after either the claimant has been arrested for contravening Hong Kong law, notified of their removal from Hong Kong, or has had their claim for refugee status rejected by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The South China Morning Post has noted that some asylum seekers do not have a bona fide torture claim but use a claim as a means to avoid deportation and work illegally in Hong Kong for years, which is the length of time it can take to process claims.
As of 2014 there are about 6,000 asylum seekers mostly from Africa and South Asia awaiting determination of their claims. The city no longer accepts any new asylum seekers due to the high cost of providing for living costs of asylum seekers during the adjudication of claims.
Asylum seekers live in low cost housing due to the basic level of rental subsidy provided by the Hong Kong government and extremely high cost of rent in the city. The centrally located Chungking Mansions is a popular living quarter for asylum seekers who find budget accommodation in the 15 floor residential block that is home also to foreign wholesale goods traders and backpackers. Outside of the city center, asylum seekers also live in the rural villages of Hong Kong where cheaper accommodation is found.
Turmoil in the region has been a cause of refugees waves to the city. The end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949 resulted in hundreds of thousands of Chinese refugees and the end of the Vietnam War brought hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees. Ultimately, of the refugee claims, 143,700 Vietnamese refugees were resettled in third countries while about 67,000 Vietnamese migrants were deported back to Vietnam. Only about 1,000 Vietnamese refugees were granted permission to reside and assimilate in Hong Kong.
A system of individual assessment of torture claims brought by asylum seekers began in 2004 after a Court of Final Appeal directed the Hong Kong government to consider all claims on an individual basis. After this decision, there was a dramatic increase in the arrival of asylum seekers.
A March 2013 holding by the Court of Final Appeal held that determination of refugee claims are subject to judicial review. This landmark holding prompted Hong Kong to restructure the system for considering claims. Previously, the UNHCR made determinations of refugee status and handled resettlement of refugees from Hong Kong to third countries. Prompted by the court holding, Hong Kong commenced in 2014 a Unified Screening Mechanism.
Alleged rape at Chungking Mansions
A 26-year old Indian asylum seeker living in Rhine Guesthouse, a hostel at Chungking Mansions, allegedly raped another guest, a woman from mainland China. This incident in June 2013 sparked alarm in Hong Kong and subjected the handling of asylum seekers by the city government to widespread public scrutiny.
- "The Unified Screening Mechanism: Hong Kong to Assess Refugee Claims Alongside Torture Claims". Oxford Human Rights Hub. November 20, 2014.
- Annual Report 2013. Immigration Department. 2013.
- "Hong Kong refugees deserve basic right to decide what they eat".
- Choi, Christy (May 21, 2014). "Controversy over Hong Kong's asylum seekers harks back to Vietnam". South China Morning Post.
- "New UNHCR head urges Hong Kong to protect refugees and asylum seekers". South China Morning Post. December 2, 2012.
- "Treatment of torture claimants in breach of laws and treaties". South China Morning Post. January 27, 2013.
- "Chungking Mansions: Inside Hong Kong's favourite 'ghetto'". BBC. December 22, 2013.
- "Asylum seeker dies in village blaze". The Standard. January 30, 2015.
- "Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal ruled on refugee law gateway issue". Oxford Human Rights Hub. April 1, 2013.
- "Rape suspect appears in HK court". China Daily. June 5, 2013.