Although the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol have been widely ratified by states,many Asian nations have been generally resistant to committing to refugee protection and have been relatively critical of the development of international refugee law. In spite of this,the Asia-Pacific Region is currently home to approximately one-third of the world’s refugee population.
Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1997,and was granted a moderate degree of autonomy in all areas except for Foreign Policy and Defense. Under Basic Law,Hong Kong maintains control over its own Immigration controls and thereby has the right to develop its own laws and policies with regards to refugees. The PRC has signed onto the Refugee Convention but the ratification of these treaties has not been extended to Hong Kong,and Hong Kong does not provide legal status or protection to refugees.
As the local Government does not carry out its own Refugee Status Determination (RSD) procedures,the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is in charge of assessing asylum-claims in Hong Kong and of resettling recognized refugees to third countries. Unfortunately,due to UNHCR’s capacity constraints asylum-seekers in Hong Kong frequently have to wait up to five years for their RSD interviews,during which they have to survive on minimal social service provision from local NGOs,have no right to employment,and have extremely limited rights to education and healthcare. Refugees and asylum-seekers also suffer from prejudice and negative misconceptions due to damaging media coverage portraying the terms ‘refugees’,‘illegal immigrants’ and ‘economic migrants’ to be inter-changeable and the same. In addition,most refugees in Hong Kong are also torture victims,and their Post-Traumatic Stress is exacerbated by isolation from their communities and support networks,and by feelings of loss of agency and the ability to influence their own lives.