Nov 10, 2017

Refugees Of The World

The world is in motion. The biggest refugee crisis witnessed by humans is taking place. Over 65 million people across the globe have been displaced from their homes – the equivalent of the entire population of the UK being on the move at the same time. Although a majority of the refugees originate from a handful of countries, namely Syria, Afghanistan, the Lake Chad basin, South Sudan and Somalia, this pattern can be noticed throughout the globe.



Just like the rest of the world, Hong Kong too is witnessing and being affected by this refugee crisis. Hong Kong, today, is home to more than 11,000 refugees, fleeing from countries like Mainland China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burundi and Somalia.

But this influx of refugees is not new to Hong Kong. A lot of today’s Hong Kongers have descended from refugees or were refugees themselves. Around one=third of the country’s population is a direct descendent or one of the 700,000 to 1 million refugees who entered Hong Kong as a result of the Chinese Civil War in 1949 and the Vietnam War from the 1950s to  the 1970s.




In the year 2004, Hong Kong relaxed its rules regarding refugees claiming asylum. The Hong Kong courts prohibited the immigration authorities from removing any illegal immigrants who claimed risk of torture or prosecution. This was a huge relief for refugees, and resulted in a rise in the number of people seeking shelter in Hong Kong.

Almost a decade later, in 2013, the Hong Kong Courts made another amendment to the law, making the claims of the refugees a subject to the judicial law. Refugee claims must undergo a Unified Screening Mechanism before being accepted as valid.

Now, there are a few problems with the working of this system. Chloe Martin, the psychosocial programme manager at Justice Centre Hong Kong, talks about the importance of understanding the trauma that refugees go through and the effects of this trauma on their testimony.

She talks about providing lawyers with training so that they can understand trauma and catch the symptoms in a client as and when they see them. ‘A refugee’s expressions may be misconstrued as telling a lie, when they’re not,’ says Ms Martin, ‘as a result of trauma.’ With a little bit of awareness and training, lawyers can detect these differences and provide a better environment for the client in which they feel secure to share their story. Since these claims are accepted or denied by the judicial law, looking at both the factual and emotional side of the cases is important.




Hong Kong’s refugee numbers when compared to the rest of the world are actually among the smallest. In spite of that, the screening process is quite rigorous. Since the year 2014, Hong Kong has discussed and determined 7,000 refugee claims out of which only 52 have been substantiated. 9,000 similar cases are still pending.

In spite of these low numbers and tight rules, Hong Kong is witnessing a crisis; ‘the crisis of fear’. The media and some politicians have recently begun to create an atmosphere of fear surrounding the refugees claiming torture protection. Also, serious allegations like rape and causing disturbance in society have been put upon what are being called the ‘fake refugees’ by some political organizations. Although these claims fell when tested, they were enough to create an environment of fear.



Another major problem with this system is that the government does not provide the asylum seekers with a right to work. Although rental subsidy, food and some medical care is provided, it is not enough to sustain a healthy lifestyle. This setting, meant to avert an influx of more refugees, costs the government 640 million HKD every year. Although it has curbed the refugees coming into Hong Kong to some extent, the people fleeing a life-threatening situation still find the safe environment of Hong Kong nothing less than a miracle. They are willing to go without material comforts as long as they can sleep away from guns being fired next to their ears.

Although the government hasn’t significantly changed its strict rules, the NGOs, many local people and the refugees themselves are working constantly towards building a community that is safe and welcoming for everyone.


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