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Refugees in Hong Kong Face Slim Odds for Asylum


Vietnamese refugee children peek from Hong Kong's Pillar Point Refugee Centre March 9 during a visit by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) chief Sadako Ogata.

Vietnamese refugee children peek from Hong Kong's Pillar Point Refugee Centre March 9 during a visit by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) chief Sadako Ogata.


There are more than 10,000 refugees seeking asylum in Hong Kong.

But most are trapped in legal limbo.

Hong Kong is not bound to the 1951 Refugee Convention. That treaty established refugee rights and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.

But Hong Kong is bound to the Convention Against Torture. That convention is an international treaty saying Hong Kong cannot expel people at risk of torture.

Because of the conventions, refugee claims can take years to decide.

The odds of winning asylum in Hong Kong are low. Since 1992, Hong Kong has given 31 people protection status.

Today’s Hong Kong refugees are mostly from India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Africa. They live in poverty on animal farms and slums.

“They [refugees] still don’t have any legal status here in Hong Kong,” Victoria Wisniewski Otero, a refugee advocate, said. “Technically they are treated as illegal over-stayers. They have no right to work. They have no income.”

The low number of those receiving protection status creates other problems. Hong Kong media reported that an international black market racket produced false asylum claims. The claims were made as cover for illegal workers to fill labor shortages throughout Hong Kong.

Shannon Van Sant wrote this story for VOAnews.com. Jim Dresbach adapted it for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

What do you think about the worldwide refugee problem? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section or visit our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

limbo – n. in an uncertain or undecided state or condition

slum – n. an area of a city where poor people live and the buildings are in bad condition

racket – n. a business that makes money through illegal activities

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