Refugees are people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country.* Such a person may be considered a “non-refoulement claimant” or an “asylum seeker” until their claim for refugee status has been granted.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as at mid-2022, there were 103 forcibly displaced people worldwide. They are people forcibly displaced due to war, conflict, persecution, human rights violations and events seriously disturbing public order. 72% of all refugees come from Syrian Arab Republic, Venezuela, Ukraine, Afghanistan and South Sudan.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “an asylum seeker is someone who says he or she is a refugee, but whose claim has not yet been definitively evaluated.” People seeking international protection in Hong Kong are called non-refoulement claimants. Should their claims be substantiated by the local authorities, they are not to be returned to their home countries.
According to statistics made public by the government, there are around 153,000 protection claimants in Hong Kong*. There are 293 substantiated claimants out of the 26,935 torture/non-refoulement claims in the past 13 years. That is a substantiation rate of 1%. On the contrary, during the last 10 years, 67% of asylum seekers are granted asylum under the 1951 Refugee Convention globally. Europe’s rate is 38%. Most claimants in Hong Kong come from countries in Africa, Middle East and South Asia. *As in December 2021
Claimants need to enter Hong Kong as a tourist and overstay their visa. They surrender their status and then file a written signification stating reasons why they cannot return to their home country.
The processing time for a Recognizance Document(行街紙), which is their identification in an A4 paper until they receive a decision for their claim, is around six weeks.
It takes several weeks after receiving the Recognizance Document to start receiving government subsidies. The International Social Service is commissioned by the government to provide social assistance to the claimants.
Claimants then start the Unified Screening System and file a non-refoulement claim. This process usually takes years, and they cannot work or volunteer, forced into relying on government subsidies and living under the poverty line.
Despite year-on-year inflation of 2.44% annually since 2015, the subsidies amount haven not changed since 2014.
Housing: HK$1,500 (US$194) per adult or half of that amount for a child, paid directly to the landlord. The average rent of a subdivided flat in Hong Kong is HK$ 5,000 for 132 square feet.
Utilities: HK$300 (US$39) per household. However, the landlords of subdivided flats often charge more than the official tariff.
Food in an e-card for supermarkets: HK$1,200 (US$155) per adult.
Transportation: HK$200- 300 is the only cash they receive.
Three to five year-old children can claim for a one-off grant (up to HK$3,885/year) to help cover education costs according to the Student Finance Office website. This grant is not enough and applications take a long time to process.
For children 6 years old and above, they can……
The same issues arise when families apply to have kindergarten fees paid by the Student Finance Office. The process takes a minimum of three months and families are asked to pay tuition fees in advance, even though they have no source of income to cover such fees.
There is no blanket permission for substantiated claimants to take up paid work in the territory. Individual applications would have to be filed at the Hong Kong Immigration by claimants and these are considered on a case-by-case basis.
Approval rate through this process has been quite low, with only 44 out of 108 applications approved, 10 were rejected, 15 pending further information from the applicants and 39 withdrawn or stalled. The processing of right to work applications typically takes six to eight weeks.