Safe Harbour

The ongoing refugee crisis in Europe has yet to affect Hong Kong very much directly – at time of writing there were reports of a single person from Syria seeking help here – so this would be a good time to review our policies and practices with respect to refugees.

Hong Kong at present does not follow the United Nations convention on Refugees, only the one on Torture. Is that good enough for an advanced city in the 21st century? I doubt it.

I think there is a good case for us to review that policy and for both the host community and any applicant for refugee status to comply with a code of conduct. The Hong Kong community must do two basic things: first, it must ensure that the government has the resources and the will to make a determination speedily and in good faith of every application for refugee status. Secondly, when refugee status is found to be justified, that is the applicant meets the criteria and cannot safely be returned to the country of origin, then that person must be made welcome and given legal resident status. That means the refugee (and spouse if applicable) must be allowed to work, and any children should attend school. Those found to be illegal immigrants with no case for refugee status should be treated in accordance with the law and deported.

At the moment it is questionable whether we are complying with that code. Applications and appeals are taking a very long time to settle, measured in months if not years, and meanwhile applicants are stuck in a kind of limbo, unable to work and dependant on meagre handouts. This is unfair to all parties, including Hong Kong people themselves, who are spending a lot of resources supporting those who could be (and in many cases would rather be) supporting themselves.

For their part, those granted refugee status should also comply with a code of conduct. They must agree to abide by the laws of Hong Kong and respect local customs. They must respect the age of consent for sexual relations, and accept that marriage is by mutual consent of willing adult parties. They should make an effort to learn one or both of our official languages. There are to be no ‘honour’ killings of errant daughters and sisters, and no mutilation of female genitalia even if those practices were acceptable in their home country. They must understand that in our community boys and girls mix freely both in and outside school. They are free to practice their own faith and in return must tolerate the practice by others of their faith. They may choose not to consume certain foods and beverages, but appreciate that others will wish to do so. In Hong Kong, followers of a faith are free to change to another faith, or choose to practice none at all. There is no death sentence here for apostasy.

I guess what I am really asking for here is mutual respect. I don’t think our community is doing enough to help genuine refugees and we should do more. In return we are entitled to expect those whom we have welcomed into our home to integrate with us.

Mike Rowse