Ind (not her real name) is no stranger to sleepless nights. The Filipino went to Hong Kong in 1997 to work as a restaurant worker to escape her abusive husband, reports Global Voices
. Ind believes that she would be in danger if she returned to her home country, where there is no divorce law. So she became a non-refoulement claimant
in 2020 — and has been living in legal limbo since then.
Ind is just one of the 14,000 refugees in Hong Kong, where they have scant rights. The Hong Kong government is not a signatory
to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention
. It “maintains a firm policy of not granting asylum and not determining or recognizing (the) refugee status of any person,” the Immigration Department told the Hong Kong Free Press
. But it does offer non-refoulement, the assurance that the refugees would not be sent home if they faced danger there.
While the refugees’ claims are being processed by the city’s immigration officials, however, they have no legal status in Hong Kong. The illegal status “affects every aspect of claimants’ daily lives, such as accessing healthcare, housing and education,” according to a 2021 UN report
by the Justice Center Hong Kong, a migrant organization. Moreover, the refugees are forbidden from working, leading some to turn to crime.
Now the refugees face yet another problem that keeps them up at night. Hong Kong’s new policy on their court appeals could lead “foreigners who fail in their first court attempt to obtain non-refoulement … [to] face repatriation before the outcome of appeals to higher courts,” reports the South China Morning Post
The policy has sparked alarm among the refugees and the human rights lawyers and non-governmental organizations helping them. The law firm Daly & Associates, specialists in human rights and asylum laws, criticized the lack of public debate before it was changed.
The policy would adversely affect the non-refoulement claimants in Hong Kong. “Yet the voices of the marginalized groups are unheard,” the firm told the Post
. “Nor did the Security Bureau seek the views and advice from non-governmental organizations, civil society groups, academics, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Hong Kong, or the legal profession.”