Francesco Vecchio and ‘March For Protection’ organizer Cosmo Beatson report from Hong Kong

On 27 April 2013 about 800 asylum seekers and torture claimants marched through the streets of Hong Kong to protest the government’s failure to recognize their claims for protection. Pointing out that the current .02% recognition rate of torture claimants lags behind that of liberal democracies with similar refugee demographics, protesters demanded fair screening. They also criticized other socio-legal barriers that asylum seekers face, challenge and clash with on a daily basis while their cases are under review.

Asylum seekers in Hong Kong are not afforded legal status and are forbidden from working. Yet, they are released in society, provided minimal assistance inadequate for their most basic needs. Tissue, water, diapers and other essentials are not included in government provision, while transportation fees to attend interviews are disbursed in lump sums at the beginning of the subsequent month. Meals are also not provided when asylum seekers are required to wait lengthy periods and attend screening interviews. Most endure substandard living conditions, corralled into Hong Kong’s government-funded shantytowns, have been the subject of numerous visits from concerned NGOs.

The protest in April rejected the presumption that asylum seekers are deviant abusers laying siege to Hong Kong for profit. By pushing human rights issues into the political agenda, protesters identified a series of nodes around which activism and research might coalesce. Specifically, they demonstrated the salience of immigration status in any analysis of social inclusion and exclusion. Heavy criminal sentences face those who work, at the same time that the state provides no viable alternative means to survive or flourish. Such policies, protesters argued, have effectively transformed Hong Kong into a ‘prison without walls’ with minimal public debate. Civil society appears to have yielded to state power, accepting securitization discourses that reduce asylum seekers to deportable, yet exploitable labourers.

The April rally questioned the legitimacy of border control policies and practices that infringe upon state obligations under domestic and international law. By taking action, the men and women involved put a face to the grievances of refugees from two-dozen countries. Finally, by organizing a large public demonstration, protesters showed their capacity to negotiate socio-legal exclusion in an attempt to break free from the structural conditions that strangle their lives in ways those with legal status find hard to imagine. Whether their actions will be successful or not it remains to be seen, however the rally demonstrates that, at the very least, the will to resist border control in Hong Kong exists, and ought to be the subject of further academic research.

For more photos of the rally and information about the organisation supporting it see: http://visionfirstnow.org/advocacy/mfp2/