Refugees fear detention law change

Local | Maisy Mok 17 Feb 2021

A human rights organization that assists asylum seekers and refugees said it is dangerous for the government to propose amending an immigration ordinance that would expand its powers on detention.

The Justice Centre Hong Kong said the proposed amendment to the Immigration Ordinance will make it easier for the Immigration Department to keep non-refoulement claimants in detention.

"It is dangerous because we have seen how traumatizing immigration detention could be for someone," said Preston Cheung, advocacy and communications officer of Justice Centre Hong Kong.

"Especially for asylum seekers and refugees who have experienced traumatic events before arriving in Hong Kong."

Under the existing requirement for a unified screening mechanism, asylum seekers must overstay in Hong Kong before they are eligible to lodge non-refoulement claims.

The ordinance states that claimants may be detained pending final determination of their claim and pending their removal from Hong Kong.

The amendment bill, which is being studied by the Legislative Council's bills committee, seeks to strengthen the removal of unsuccessful non-refoulement claimants and enhance detention.

The amendment allows factors such as manpower and financial resources allocated to the removal of persons from Hong Kong or determination of unified screening mechanism claims to be taken into account when deciding whether the period of detention is reasonable and lawful.

"The amendment justifying prolonged detention on the basis of administrative and bureaucratic inefficiency, or factors beyond the control of authorities or the person concerned, is thus potentially arbitrary and unlawful," the organization said in the written submission, as part of Refugee Concern Network, to the bills committee.

The center added that the existing immigration detention regime already suffers from an array of unresolved issues, including a lack of effective complaints and monitoring mechanisms.

Cheung said the experience of a recognized refugee, who received help from the organization regarding their unified screening mechanism claim, shows that there is a lack of an effective complaint mechanism in the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre.

A claimant, Tina, described her three-month experience at the center as "prison-like." She refused to reveal her real name and details of her background for fear of persecution.

"From the day I entered, nobody explained to me the procedure, nobody told me how long I will stay. If I ask them questions, they say if you don't want to go back to East Africa, just keep quiet and wait," she said.

Tina said a senior officer enters the center daily to ask if anyone will lodge complaints but other officers who monitor detainees on a regular basis told her "when this officer comes, you cannot say anything, you have to just say good morning and keep quiet."

The organization said the government should address long-standing issues within the immigration detention regime for the amended ordinance rather than enhancing the use of detention and militarizing the immigration services.

It also recommended establishing an independent mechanism to receive and investigate complaints in all places of detention, as well as to allow civil society organizations regular access to monitor detention facilities and offer assistance to detainees where necessary.

In response to Tina's experience, an Immigration Department spokesman said detainees were given information leaflets on their rights and channels of complaints during detention upon admission to the center.

"The detainees at CIC have all along been fairly and properly treated with due respect to human dignity in accordance with the relevant legal provisions and established mechanism," a spokesman said.

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