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UNHCR’s representative in Hong Kong calls RSD a “deterrent’

January 17, 2013

In an Op-Ed in the South China Morning Post, UNHCR’s representative in Hong Kong, Philip Karani, said this about why Hong Kong need not fear an influx of economic migrants if it ratifies the Refugee Convention:

When it comes to expedient but fair due process, no one can compete with Hong Kong, and were the government to implement robust refugee-status determination procedures under the Refugee Convention, the effect would be that of a deterrent, not a magnet. Economic migrants who have not been persecuted for the specific reasons enumerated in the Refugee Convention would know that they were likely to have their claims denied, and quickly.

Karani has good intentions, but this line of argument is dangerous over the long run. Yes, if the majority of asylum-seekers do not have valid claims, then a fair and efficient RSD system will help a country screen these people out legitimately. Yet, the strongest RSD systems in the world typically have high recognition rates.

What Karani is saying to Hong Kong – in the name of the UN Refugee Agency – is that a government should be able to expect to reject the vast majority of asylum-seekers. That becomes a very big problem if many people at genuine risk of persecution start arriving. A country might learn to go through the formalities of RSD, but rig the system to reject refugees unfairly. That is what Israel and Greece have done in exactly that situation.

Afterall, UNHCR once said that RSD should be a deterrent to asylum-seekers, right?

One Comment
  1. An interested party. permalink
    February 7, 2013 3:33 am

    Yet the purpose of the article was to emphasise that Hong Kong should have signatory status extended to it. Something it currently does not have extended to it despite China’s status as a signatory.

    While China’s signatory status can be seen as laughable were it not so utterly depressing Hong Kong has a robust and effective judiciary that has previously pinned the government’s ears back, perhaps most significantly in the case of arbitrary detention about 4 years ago.

    That said the influx of asylum seekers since c.2006 were, in the majority, those seeking to abuse the RSD process and use the status as an asylum seeker to prevent deportation whilst working illegally as at the time an RSD claim could take up to 2 years to reach first instance. However while this describes the majority of claims there are also those with valid claims who were affected by the extended processing times effected by (at the time though the caseload has now changed) the large numbers of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian asylum seekers applying for status recognition.

    Had the UNHCR departed there is a good chance that the human rights mechanisms combined with the judiciary would have forced the government to take on RSD and not just the adjudication of CAT claims that it currently undertakes.

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