October 22, 2016
Proposal re Hong Kong's asylum seeker policy


The present situation: more than 10,000 asylum seekers are in Limbo in Hong Kong , given insufficient funding by government for housing and food, most of them working illegally, more and more of them getting into crime ... a great drain on the personnel, resources and time of the HK government and NGOs. A big mess. Getting worse. A lose-lose-lose situation (for HK, for the asylum seekers, for the asylum seekers' families in countries of origin).

From the point of view of the HK government, this situation is like someone continuing to spend beyond their means, getting into bigger and bigger debt. The solution has to have two parts:

A: stop spending ... no more debts!
B: try to pay off debts incurred before you stopped spending.

 Applying this thinking to the asylum seeker issue, here is Part A: drastically reduce the number of asylum seekers coming to HK, 95% of whom are economic migrants rather than political refugees:

1. Require visas for people from asylum seeker countries entering HK for the first time. So many asylum seekers (and drug mules) admit the reason they chose HK rather than some other place is because HK does not require a visa for their countries. If a visa is required, people can be checked at their point of departure.  

2. Require finger print record and facial photos of all asylum seekers. So many asylum seekers (and drug mules) are making multiple trips to HK on false passports. Some asylum seekers have been here many times. They have been sent away from HK, then have come back with a different passport.

3. Upgrade the training and number of Immigration personnel in HK who handle the processing of asylum seekers. There are many problems at present because of a shortage of staff who speak the asylum seekers' languages. Staff need training in the language, background, culture and history of the asylum seekers' countries. Some staff need to be assigned to the asylum seekers' countries to help process visa claims and assess the claims of possible genuine refugees.

 4. Increase the penalties for people smuggling; increase the penalties for working illegally in HK - penalties for employers as well as employees; increase penalties for for overstaying etc. Remove loopholes in the system - e.g. the present loophole whereby an overseas drug mule who finishes a sentence in HK can apply to stay as an asylum seeker.

Measures like the above three items will stem the flow of asylum seekers to HK and speed up the effective processing of asylum seeker applications. Thus HK will stop getting "further into debt".

 Part B: how to "pay off debts already contracted" - i.e. what to do about the 10,000 asylum seekers already in HK.

 Announce a policy that will begin from January 1, 2017 . A one-off policy that will not apply to any asylum seekers arriving after December 31, 2016 . The policy needs to have three plans:

 Plan 1: Offer $50,000 to asylum seekers willing to go back to their own countries. In my experience, the majority of HK's 10,000 asylum seekers would accept this offer. The reason they are unwilling at present to return is that most of them have paid between HK$20,000 and HK$50,000 to come to HK illegally, their passages arranged by people smugglers and deceptive agencies. To go home empty handed is too big a loss of face. But to go back with $50,000 is something they will accept. The money could be given partly in cash and partly as in the UK system known as the Facilitated Return Scheme (copy available here).  Of HK's 10,000 asylum seekers, I would expect more than half would accept this offer. And we can note that the HK government is already spending more than $50,000 per year per asylum seeker for rent, accommodation, medical care, legal and administration staff etc.

 Plan 2: No one can deny that some asylum seekers are genuine political refugees, fleeing persecution and dangers of various kinds. These people can be given refugee papers which will help them find re-settlement in other countries like the US , Canada , Australia etc.

 Plan 3: Allow some asylum seekers to remain in HK and join the work force (which needs more workers) - especially people who have been here a long time and have learned Cantonese, people who have skills that HK needs, people who have had children born in HK etc. To avoid the possibility of Plan 3 babies suddenly appearing, Plan 3 could be announced as applying only to babies born in HK before a certain date.

 At the moment, while entry to HK is so easy (..no visa etc), Plans 1, 2 & 3 cannot be implemented, because such implementation would immediately lead to a big influx of arrivals. But if the "door is shut", or at least largely shut, then Plans 1, 2 & 3 can be put into practice.

 The present asylum seeker situation in HK is a mess, and it's getting messier.  HK urgently needs something like the above policy as soon as possible. January 1 is an obvious starting date.