HK's refugee vetting system failing

Updated: 2016-03-31 08:41

By N. Balakrishnan(HK Edition)

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N. Balakrishnan says HK must nip the problem of refugees in the bud before fake asylum seekers start flooding into the city and trigger an 'anti-immigrant' backlash

As anyone who steps out of their home knows, it takes money to travel and the further away from home you are, the more money it takes. We have to keep this in mind when we read about ill-informed news reports about "penniless" refugees and "asylum" seekers who somehow manage to travel half-way across the world with supposedly not a penny to their name!

Hong Kong has recently seen increasing numbers of people from places such as Somalia, India and Pakistan arriving to seek "asylum". Logic dictates that such people cannot be penniless as they have traveled more than five hours by air to come here. There are indeed "penniless" refugees but they just walk across to the nearest peaceful land. The Somali poor walk to Kenya and the Syrian poor have been flooding nearby Turkey and Lebanon by the millions. Many of them have the means to buy an air ticket and pay human traffickers.

Recognizing this truth, Danish government authorities decided they will confiscate gold ornaments from the refugees arriving from the Middle East before they start applying for welfare benefits. This led to much uproar but one can understand the logic of the Danish government.

Hong Kong has no such policy. We have to ask ourselves why the "refugees" and "asylum" seekers fly over much nearer countries to come to Hong Kong. It is because that is where the jobs are! So these "asylum" seekers are mostly economic migrants looking for jobs. There is nothing wrong with this since poor people without rewarding jobs have gone to those places with better opportunities since time immemorial - whether it is the Italians and the Irish going to the US or the Chinese going to San Francisco. But Hong Kong authorities have a duty and responsibility to analyze the problem for what it is - case of people coming to look for work, rather than one of muddling the issue with ill-informed bleeding hearts in Hong Kong asking for the resettlement of "asylum" seekers.

Even in the middle of this economic downturn Hong Kong has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Asia, if not the world. Unlike Singapore, Hong Kong has not gone out in a big way to recruit foreign labor to do its dirty work, such as construction, dishwashing, road building and so on. Things are so bad in Hong Kong that some vital infrastructure projects, such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, are being delayed on the Hong Kong side whereas on the mainland side the construction is almost complete.

The public hospitals of Hong Kong are now suffering from severe shortage of nurses but no one wants to adopt the "Singapore solution" of importing nurses from the Philippines or Myanmar. There may indeed be an economic though not a political case for importing foreign labor for nursing and construction in Hong Kong. But such issues should be raised and debated up front and the problem should not be solved by releasing the "asylum" seekers into general labor pool by the "backdoor", thereby encouraging illegal migration to our shores.

It is a backhanded compliment to Hong Kong that so many Somalis, Indians and Pakistanis spurn the vast lands nearby and fly all the way to Chek Lap Kok to present themselves as "refugees" and seek "asylum" from largely imagined "persecution", but such compliments come with a price. While Hong Kong's unions lobby to prevent the import of legitimate labor from the mainland, the "asylum" seekers, who are not confined to refugee camps as in most refugee destination countries, engage in construction work in our city. This aberration has harmed the case for both genuine refugees and asylum seekers, not to mention it being a major financial drain on us. So it is important for Hong Kong to nip the problem in the bud, before the fake asylum seekers start flooding this rocky island and trigger an "anti-immigrant" backlash in this so far tolerant city, in spite of its ingrained prejudices.

Perhaps the best solution is to invest in more manpower and streamline the procedure with a view to plugging the loopholes currently being exploited by traffickers. Our experience in this regard clearly indicates that only a handful of the tens of thousands of "asylum" seekers are genuine. The trick is to identify the "real" asylum seekers.

Hong Kong's current asylum seeker vetting system has been hijacked by a few "human rights" lawyers with a vested interest in making sure that the influx never come to end so that their "income" does not come to an end either. It's questionable that such lawyers have the welfare of the asylum seekers at heart. Our government should devise a new system that cannot be easily abused in order to protect our own interests.

HK's refugee vetting system failing

(HK Edition 03/31/2016 page10)