Hong Kong has one of the smallest global refugee populations. There are around 10,000 people seeking protection from countries like Sri Lanka, Burundi, Central African Republic, Yemen and Somalia. That is only 0.2 per cent of people in Hong Kong, but it somehow emblematic of the global phenomenon of the refugees issue.
Many Hong Kongers were once refugees themselves. Between 700,000 and 1 million refugees came to Hong Kong in the 1950s, eventually comprising one-third of the city’s population. From those premises, one would expect a welcoming society with flexible policies. However Hong Kong repatriated about 6000 unsuccessful refugee claimants last year, the majority of those is mainland China, followed by Vietnam and India.
Hong Kong is one of the few developed jurisdictions in the world that hasn’t signed on to the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention which determines the refugees here aren’t granted any kind of legal status. But it’s still a member of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which prevents it from deporting anyone back to a country where they have a credible fear of torture or harm.
Refugees are not sent back to home countries, yet they are not allowed to work or have legal status. It is a legal limbo where most of them end up accidentally cheated by traffickers that promise them to migrate in countries like Canada and abandon them at the Hong Kong airport.
I followed three cases and worked with the only NGO that focus specifically on refugees, granting them basic survival and legal assistance.