The Legislative Council has rejected a non-binding motion tabled by pro-Beijing lawmaker Holden Chow to combat “bogus refugees” which he said have been a problem that “has become increasingly serious in recent years.”
Chow, who represents the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), said in the document that many had abused the refugee screening mechanism “by lodging non-refoulement claims and employing every means to prolong the screening procedures.”
The motion urged the government to review the mechanism, step up cooperation with neighbouring regions to intercept illegal immigrants, allocate more resources and set a time limit on screening non-refoulement claims. It also proposed imposing a cap on publicly-funded legal assistance and setting up holding centres.
However, as lawmakers debated the motion on Wednesday and Thursday, the pro-democracy camp voiced disagreement.
It was rejected at around Thursday noon reviving a 16-16 tie in the geographical constituency – one vote short of being passed – with objections from the pro-democracy camp.
Lawmaker Charles Mok said he found the wording of the motion “disturbing” and found the use of the word “bogus” to be inhumane.
He said the pro-Beijing camp would argue that “draconian measures” might only apply to “bogus refugees” but it was not true.
“It is clear to us that many of the measures which they are talking about – such as encampments – would be applied to all asylum seekers. Such is the hypocrisy and discrimination in disguise,” he said.
He also cited human rights workers and lawyers as saying that abuses of the system were because of the government delays and lack of understanding and training in dealing with bogus claims. “Which in turn cause more delays in handling the cases which results in effectively inviting or attracting more bogus claims,” he said.
In response to the motion, Acting Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said that the measures – such as setting up holding centres – may help with public safety, but it presented a huge challenge with regards to legality, resources and management.
He said the bureau will take measures under the existing legal framework to speed up screening, block illegal immigrants at the source, and halt abuses to the system.
Chow accused the pro-democracy camp of harbouring “bogus refugees” by submitting amendments that essentially changed the whole meaning of the motion.
“This is a serious problem. [Bogus refugees] have caused misunderstandings and caused people to wrongly label ethnic minorities in Hong Kong who abide by the law – we need to give them justice,” he said.
“We can see clearly that pan-democratic lawmakers basically oppose combating ‘bogus refugees’… they hold up the flag of human rights, in fact they are neglecting this serious problem,” he added before the motion was rejected.
We welcome the veto today of the contentious motion in LegCo to “combat bogus refugees” Efforts on the #USM must be grounded in human rights pic.twitter.com/ITIgKUlcoT
— Justice Centre HK (@justicecentrehk) December 1, 2016
Last month, Victoria Otero – advocacy and campaigns manager at the Justice Centre – told HKFP: “The increased concern about [unified screening mechanism] claimants doesn’t add up with the government’s own statistics that show that the number of claims filed each quarter has [steadily] decreased since 2014.” She added that terms such as “bogus refugee” increased negative stereotyping and xenophobia.