21 October 2016
Hong Kong government has been accused of not making a serious effort to resolve the refugee problem. Photo: HKEJ
Hong Kong government has been accused of not making a serious effort to resolve the refugee problem. Photo: HKEJ

The cruel reality behind the refugee problem

Call them illegal immigrants, boat people or refugees, the plight of those unfortunate people is always the same. All they want is a better life.

The refugee problem is nothing new to this world; in fact, it has been there from the beginning of civilization. But we never seem to find solutions for the problem.

And Hong Kong is no different in this respect.

According to media reports, Hong Kong has a little more than 11,000 refugees or the so-called asylum seekers. The number got accumulated through years of inaction or negligence from the relevant authorities.

Refugees are the mandate of the UNHCR. But the ultimate responsibility rests on lies on the governments, which anyway foot the bills.

Since Hong Kong has no refugee camps as it used to during the influx of Vietnamese boat people in early eighties, the people are living in normal residential areas within the city.

A rise in crimes allegedly perpetrated by asylum seekers has infuriated the local population. The issue has led to heated debates on the whole refugee issue.

The problem, however, won’t go away anytime soon. Consider these facts:

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees: The agency is not only crippled with bureaucracy and red tape but is also inefficient and only good for overseeing emergency measures. Given that it takes years, sometime even decades, to finalize the refugee status of just a few people, nothing more needs to be said here.

But the fault is not entirely of the UN, it is also lies with the system it was put on to run. The UN is certainly good on principle, but in practice, it lacks real power and must rely on donor nations. In a nutshell, it is a toothless tiger. Unless the host nations do something, the UN agency’s hands are tied.

Hong Kong government: As I wrote in a previous article, the bureaucracy is like a well-drilled-machine that runs well if not disturbed. Any changes on the course, it won’t work. Moreover, our principal officials are so busy fending off criticism, squaring off opposition, and dealing with demonstrators that they hardly have time to think about the refugees’ issue.

They also have to follow and please the big bosses over the border. Hong Kong is a money-oriented society; taking the refugee issue head on won’t make you rich or popular. Therefore, resolving the refugee issue is the last thing our officials have in mind. Just throw some money to the paupers and your obligation is completed. Expecting real compassion from such society is a wishful notion.

The origin of asylum seekers: As we all say, the truth doesn’t lie. The origin of the asylum seekers itself tells it all. Almost all of the asylum seekers are said to be from South Asian nations. Now, why is this?

Hong Kong is by no means a neighboring country to where one can just cross the fence and blimey, you are here! Most of the poor and desperate people don’t even know where Hong Kong actually is and a lifetime could be over before they could arrive here by themselves. So, it’s obvious that human traffickers have played a great role in bringing them here. Those snakeheads must be really familiar with the region, including Hong Kong, Macau and China. Only with a clearly and meticulously thought out plan can one bring people here. The traffickers should be ones that should be cut off if we are to deal with the asylum-seeker problem.

Callous third-world officials: If you are familiar with the way officials behave in third world countries like Nepal, you will understand the root of the refugee problem.

Government officials in several nations rapaciously prey on poor citizens. The officials have changed the whole meaning of democracy: the public is treated as if they were meant to support the government, not the other way around. Governmental posts are filled up not on merit but on the sheer basis of nepotism, favoritism and cronyism. Embassies and consulates are widely used to serve individual interests; the nation’s well-being is the last thing that the officials have in mind.

Nepalese embassies in Gulf nations are notoriously famous for exploiting their own migrant workers. They never seem to help the people. 

The refugee problem is big in many parts of the world, including Hong Kong. Big problems need big solutions. The only way to fix the issue is to change the whole process of refugee-taking. Rather than taking in people on voluntary basis, it should be made mandatory for governments. Each and every nation in this world must share the burden.

At present, the responsibility of taking refugees is falling solely on the shoulders of the rich and developed nations. This must change once and for all.

As far as Hong Kong is concerned, the government should stop dragging its feet. It should arrange emergency and high-level meetings with concerned nations, and fulfill its obligations.

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EJ Insight contributor

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