In the past year I have had the opportunity to enjoy a few evenings in Wan Chai with friends and associates. We have observed and indeed, commented on, the increasing number of African prostitutes parading the streets under the watchful eyes of African men, who are clearly controlling these women. I have also experienced an increase in men from the Indian subcontinent approaching me offering to sell drugs, stolen property or counterfeit goods. This kind of street crime and exploitation in Hong Kong has conspicuously increased over the past several years. Why has this happened, and why is the Hong Kong Government failing to take action?
Over the past decade China has made a strategic policy decision to increase trade and development with Africa. To encourage bilateral trade and increase Chinese influence, a decision was made to facilitate increased visitation between Africa and China. Guangzhou is a favored destination for many West Africans, particularly from Nigeria, to visit the low cost textile and manufacturing factories and bring merchandise back to sell in Africa. Unfortunately, there are not many direct flights between West Africa and Guangzhou, so many African travelers enter China via Hong Kong.
Stay in China….
After their arrival in China, many of these visitors decide to stay, notwithstanding the terms of their visa requirements. Many even destroy or “lose” their passports. When they are detained and found to be in China illegally, they are expelled by Chinese authorities to their last port of entry, which is usually Hong Kong. Once in Hong Kong, many of these scofflaws, without passports or means to support themselves, claim hardship or refugee status, inviting Hong Kong taxpayers to provide housing, financial support and medical care.
… dumped in Hong Kong
No fair minded, reasonable person would take issue with legitimate refugee claimants being assisted while they attempt to integrate into Hong Kong society. The problem is that many refugees in Hong Kong are not fleeing torture or political persecution. They have arrived in Hong Kong chasing economic opportunity in China, and then disregard Chinese law when it was not in their best economic interest. Supporting deportees from China is not a financial and social burden that Hong Kong should accept. More importantly, these opportunistic “refugees of convenience” detract from the credibility, resources, and compassion offered to legitimate refugees who deserve our full support.
UNHCR’s mission creep
The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) has been established in Hong Kong for several decades and was instrumental in the process of resettling some 70,000 Vietnamese boat people who fled to Hong Kong in the 1970’s. The UNHCR still operates in Hong Kong and, like similar non-profit organizations, they must justify their existence to remain relevant and funded. If there were no refugees or displaced persons in Hong Kong there would be no need for the UNHCR (HK) to exist.
Mission creep in Hong Kong is suspected when recent revelations show that the UNHCR assisted Edward Snowden to avoid criminal prosecution in the United States and facilitated his escape to Russia, a country that hardly has an admirable human rights record. Their mission becomes suspect, raising questions as to why Hong Kongers should bear the cost and risks of their actions.
It is also fair then to question the numbers of reported refugees seeking resettlement in Hong Kong. This refugee industry has a vested interest in perpetuating a problem that may not be as significant as we are led to believe.
Legislative and political leadership is needed to preserve the rights of legitimate refugee claimants and to manage the problems presented by the growing number of bogus refugee claimants in Hong Kong. In my view there has been a remarkable degree of moral cowardice on this issue.
It seems the Administration will continue to put decisions off to the courts to decide the fate of refugees. This appears to only benefit the legal industry, as taxpayers ultimately fund years of litigation and legal posturing as the cases languish in the courts. Hong Kong’s legislators should take a position and accept responsibility one way or the other for refugees and human rights. Instead, we are experiencing a rise of judicial activism in HK courts at the expense of the democratic values that so many in Hong Kong cherish. If Hong Kong people are content to have laws and financial obligations made by the judiciary alone, then why all the fuss about Beijing’s view regarding democracy in Hong Kong?
A job for politicians, not judges
It is not fair to legitimate refugees that they are forced into a base-level survival mode simply because Hong Kong has not developed a clear policy or process to adjudicate refugee claims. Hong Kong takes a piecemeal, inconsistent approach to the disposition of refugee claims, which appears arbitrary. This is inefficient, expensive and more importantly, corrosive to the quality of life of both refugees and Hong Kong citizens who yearn to enjoy an evening out without being hit on to buy drugs, women or stolen property.
The Hong Kong government has several options to address the ongoing drain on limited resources caused by illegitimate refugee claimants and foreign criminals.
To do #1: Stop them at the border
Firstly, those who merely transit through Hong Kong for entry into China should be turned back at the Chinese border, when the Chinese repatriate them back to Hong Kong. After all, their final destination was always China, who originally granted them an entry visa when they departed their home countries in the first place. China should bear responsibility for the cost of repatriating these people to their country of origin, not Hong Kong.
To do #2: House them in China
Secondly, since Hong Kong is only a city with limited space, individuals claiming refugee status should be temporarily domiciled in China in some of the vast empty apartment blocks that exist in Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang, It would be cheaper for Hong Kong taxpayers to help subsidize these people while their refugee claims or rights to abode in Hong Kong are being assessed. Hong Kong is part of China, so if people wish to illegally enter Hong Kong, they should be willing to be housed in other parts of China while a determination is made as to their legal status in Hong Kong.
To do #3: Evict them or let them work
Finally, when undocumented individuals arrive in Hong Kong and claim refugee or persecuted persons status they should be immediately assessed by immigration officials to determine if there is a high or low likelihood that they will meet the criteria for resettlement elsewhere or whether they will meet the standards for admittance into Hong Kong. If they pose a security risk they should be immediately placed into custody and returned from whence they came. If they pose a low security risk and have a legitimate claim then the government should allow them the right to work in Hong Kong, so they can support themselves and not be forced into a criminal lifestyle to make ends meet.
It puzzles me that the Government is clear and definitive on its legal treatment of Filipino and Indonesian domestic workers who provide a valuable service to many Hong Kong families. Yet it fails to provide the same legal clarity to those who come to Hong Kong from other shores to take advantage of China’s economic prosperity without contributing in a positive manner to Hong Kong society.
Bill Majcher worked in finance before and after a 22 year career with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police where he conducted deep undercover and covert operations and developed the RCMP’s response to terrorism post-September 11 and their Capital Markets Enforcement Team in Western Canada. More at www.harbourtimes.com