Top court says Hong Kong must assess refugee cases, not UNHCR


Simpson Cheung writes for South China Morning Post on 26 March 2013

Top court decides government can no longer rely solely on UN agency to vet asylum seekers and that its decisions can be challenged in court

The government cannot simply rely on a United Nations agency to decide whether someone is a refugee and must assess the cases independently and fairly, the top court ruled yesterday. The screening system is now expected to be rewritten after five judges of the Court of Final Appeal unanimously allowed a challenge by three African men. The government said the ruling would not affect the city’s policy of not granting asylum to anyone. Instead, people granted refugee status in Hong Kong are resettled elsewhere. The court ruling says the director of immigration’s decisions to deport refugee claimants must be made according to high standards of fairness, and be subject to judicial review. Patricia Ho, the lawyer representing the three challengers, said: “I am very excited.” She said that her three clients were also very happy, adding: “It’s good news, not only for myself but for the entire asylum-seekers community.” Currently, the Immigration Department screens people arriving in Hong Kong who claim to be escaping torture, while the UN High Commissioner for Refugees screens refugee claims. This two-pronged approach has been criticised as time-consuming and open to abuse.

Although the judgment did not mention how the government should be vetting the cases, Ho and other advocates expected the role of the UN agency to fade. “Understanding UNHCR’s constraints in its finance and manpower, it is quite unlikely that it would duplicate the job if the government was doing it already,” Ho said. Non-permanent judge Mr Justice Anthony Mason said in the court ruling that it was not right for the immigration director to simply rely on the UNHCR. “There are very strong reasons for concluding that the director has either failed to apply his mind independently to the correctness of the determinations made by the UNHCR, or he has done so in a way that falls short of the anxious scrutiny and high standards of fairness,” he said. Cosmo Beatson, executive director of Vision First, which advocates refugees’ rights, said agency decisions were immune from legal challenges and the success rate for claims was low. He hoped the estimated 1,000 asylum seekers it had rejected but who were still fighting to stay in Hong Kong would submit their cases again. “This brings justice and hope to those seeking asylum in Hong Kong who, until today, have had to rely exclusively on the arbitrary decisions of UNHCR,” he said.

This brings justice and hope to those seeking asylum in Hong Kong who, until today, have had to rely exclusively on the arbitrary decisions of UNHCR Cosmo Beatson, executive director of Vision First. He called on the government to combine vetting procedures for torture and refugee claimants. He said this would speed up the process and prevent economic migrants from buying time in the city by first applying for one status and, when that failed, then applying for the other. Mr Justice Kemal Bokhary said in the judgment a combined system would be “one of the choices open to the executive”. Annie Lin, of equal-rights campaign group the Society for Community Organisation, also welcomed the ruling. She added that she hoped the UNHCR would continue to help resettle recognised refugees. Last night, Bawah, an African whose refugee claim had been rejected, said he would definitely now apply to the government. “I need justice. I want my case to be assessed with humanity.” Spokesmen for both the Security Bureau and the Immigration Department said the government would be studying the judgment and seeking legal advice on the way forward. A UNHCR spokesman welcomed the court ruling, but would not say if it would keep taking cases or pass its current caseload – about 900 claims – to the government. About 100 refugees are awaiting resettlement.

“”Hey, remember to switch the lights off when you leave”






About Vision First Site Admin
Vision First, through community participation, promotes the welfare of refugees, irrespective of religion, race and nationality by advocating and providing shelter and access to medical, counseling and educational services – focusing on personal development through dignity and compassion.




One Response to “Top court says Hong Kong must assess refugee cases, not UNHCR”

  1. Ezra Tembo S.Buganda says:

    Our God reigns now the chains and the neck of the devil(UNHCR) has been broken down they made us to suffer in this city for many years making our world and future to crush now after a very long time of suffering at the end we’ve found the Journey of hope and justice has been prevailed.

    I recall in those days when I have just landed in Hong Kong,this relevant office turned a deaf ear to many of us, they made many people to get persecuted twice once in their own countries and then again and again here in Hong Kong.

    Where they came to uphold their fundamental human rights and seek to become refugees for such a reason they made every one to feel very cold in his/her heart, a person like me I can not help myself to stop thinking about the evil tradition in this relevant UNHCR sub office of corruption and discrimination,where officers help each other to prolong cases as an asylum seeker a waiting for an interview and/or for the decission as years goes by even if the evidence is sufficient for the interview and /or for the decision an asylum seeker must wait again.

    The wait for the interview and/or for the decission must be the longest period of all,and there is no time limit set by this relevant Sub office of UN Asia on this stage,regardless of whether or not an asylum seeker has been able to gain protection at the right time.

    The indefiniteness of time an asylum seeker must wait for the interview and/or for the decission,usually in jail ( Hong Kong immigration prision / Victoria prision ) after being arrested by Hong Kong police for over staying and/ or still on the streets under God’s protection.

    That was another kind of human rights abuse or violation and also the way one was just being put a side without any assistance.I think that the major purposes of this relevant office should have been to respect human rights and also must be to help all kinds of people without distgition as to religion or race. I cried out for help but I believe that the fact that all my cries for help was of no avail meaning that I was just being neglected by the relevant office.

    Corruption and Discrimination is hated the UN Asia over and that was due the lack of a system for supervision over the Hong Kong Government.

    If the laws becomes slaves to power,there will be no justice at all and many people will suffer from this,and the organisation’s position will be weakened

    I remember in those days there was a death of social services for asylum seekers here in Hong Kong leaving them to fend for themselves without the right to work.

    And many asylum seekers they were there on the streets,by the road sides ,starving ,freezing waiting and hopping for some one to extend a helping hand to them .

    As we know it very well that Hong Kong never signed for 1955 Genava convention, which protects the refugees,So by then they do not recoganise or deal with refugees and asylum seekers and so the terrors of this assailed every one .And many of us we were not getting any financial assistance from both UNHCR and Hong Kong government.

    And every one of us was relying on the good samalitans from churches .The situation was so very difficult for every one to wait in Hong Kong.

    As I conclude I wish to say that you guys of Vision First we are very proud of you and thank you so much for your most valuable experience,work and help you are extending to asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong, long live COSMO BEATSON and FRANCESCO and REST OF YOU VISION FIRST STAFFS AS WELL



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