Hong Kong Grapples with Soaring Illegal Migration Amidst Policy Changes

Between October 22 and November 6, Hong Kong authorities apprehended 119 individuals from South Asian countries in nine separate incidents. This sharp increase in illegal immigration is part of a larger concern, with a total of 1,241 arrested illegal immigrants in the first ten months of 2023, signalling a substantial rise compared to previous years.

The majority of asylum-seekers to Hong Kong come from South Asian countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh and often follow a circuitous route. They initially travel by air to China and then make their way to southern Chinese cities like Shenzhen and Zhuhai. From there, they attempt to reach Hong Kong by boat before voluntarily surrendering themselves to the authorities to claim non-refoulement status.

In an attempt to discourage asylum seekers, Tang Ping-Keung, the Secretary for Security of Hong Kong, labelled the tactic as “not attractive” due to its low success rate. Of all applicants, only 1% could eventually attain non-refoulement status.

Hostels in Chungking Mansions are a popular choice of accommodation among asylum seekers for their cheap rent, however, unsanitary living conditions and high crime rate within the building have raised concerns.

In Hong Kong, asylum seekers are only given a housing subsidy of $1500, along with $1200 food cards and $200-300 for transportation, figures that have remained unchanged since 2018.

Tightened Removal Policy Spark Concern Amongst Asylum Seekers

While the issue of asylum-seekers in Hong Kong has long been a concern, recent amendments to the removal policy have further exacerbated the situation. Implemented in December 2022, these changes allow authorities to deport individuals with rejected asylum applications, even while they await appeal court verdicts. The amended rules have sparked anxiety and fear among asylum seekers, as they now face the possibility of immediate deportation.

Hong Kong is not a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and does not grant asylum. Instead, the city offers non-refoulement, an assurance that asylum seekers would not be sent back to a country where they face the risk of persecution or torture.

However, in an interview with the AFP, Surabhi Chopra, a law professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said “the official narrative is very, very hostile to non-refoulement claimants”. She also stated that deporting a claimant, then expecting them to follow up on non-refoulement claims long-distance, was an “inherent contradiction”.

Critics and human rights activists have also argued that the revised policy restricts asylum seekers right to present their cases in court and hinders their chances of having their circumstances properly considered before potential deportation.

The challenges faced by asylum-seekers in Hong Kong go beyond the fear of deportation. Limited work opportunities and reliance on government allowances further compound the difficulties experienced by individuals seeking protection. In 2021 alone, authorities arrested 438 non-refoulement claimants for engaging in unlawful employment, exacerbating the vulnerabilities faced by asylum-seekers.

As the city grapples with managing the influx of asylum-seekers, concerns over recent policy changes have only added to the anxieties faced by those seeking protection. The fate of vulnerable individuals seeking asylum remains uncertain as Hong Kong continues to navigate these challenges.

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