Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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More Hongkongers apply to be refugees in Australia as security law passes

Tuesday 30/June/2020 - 02:29 PM
The Reference

Protesters involved in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement are applying for Australia’s protection in growing numbers, official Australian government data suggests.

In March, 27 Hong Kong special administrative region passport holders applied for permanent protection visas. The following month, 17 more filed claims, even as the total number of protection visa lodgments fell dramatically with Australia’s international border closure.

The numbers are higher than in the same period the previous year. Just six Hong Kong passport holders applied for an Australian refugee visa in March 2019, and eight in April.

Jane Poon, a representative of pro-democracy group Australia-Hong Kong Link, told Guardian Australia her organisation was helping several young Hong Kong men seek asylum in Australia.

The men are “frontline” protesters with the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and some faced charges arising out of the protests that have gripped Hong Kong over the past year, she said.

Poon said her group feared that a harsh new national security law – reportedly passed by Beijing on Tuesday – could lead to more arrests and charges. She suggested the law would drive more people to consider applying for protection.

“Everyone who has been arrested by the police, even if they were released without any conditions, they also face the dangers of prosecution,” Poon said.

Poon said the men she was assisting were in their 20s and already in Australia. Some were university students.

The available statistics show that protection claims from Hong Kong passport holders began to climb in September last year.

Thirteen applied in September, 27 in October, 18 in November and 12 in December. Between March and August 2019, no more than eight people applied for protection from Hong Kong each month.

Australia’s international border closed in late March. The total number of protection visa claims fell in April by about a quarter, from 2,177 in March to 1,529.

Sarah Dale, the director of the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, said she would never have expected to receive refugee applicants from Hong Kong previously. “Certainly, that has and will change,” she said, though her organisation does not have any Hong Kong clients yet.

Dale said that whether a person applies for a protection visa will depend on their circumstances, and it can sometimes be easier to seek a different kind of visa even if someone is facing persecution.

Poon said the men she is assisting are receiving thorough legal advice before submitting their asylum applications. They have been advised that protection visa applications can be very slow, with a wait of around a year to even have an initial interview with the department.

The security law has prompted international conversations about accepting Hong Kong residents to live in other democratic countries. British prime minister Boris Johnson has suggested he is prepared to give nearly 3 million Hong Kong citizens the right to live and work in the UK. His foreign secretary has asked Australia to consider “burden-sharing” if the law leads to a “mass exodus” from Hong Kong.

In the face of international and domestic pressure to commit to opening the door to people from Hong Kong, the Australian government has said only that it will “continue to welcome” Hong Kong residents.

Poon said that Australia-Hong Kong Link was considering lobbying the Australian government to develop a “lifeboat” scheme to facilitate migration from Hong Kong.

A spokesperson for Home Affairs said that “every request for humanitarian assistance is considered on a case-by-case basis”.

The department declined to provide exact figures on the number of protection claims filed by Hong Kong passport holders.

While the past six months of data is publicly available, the number of claimants from Hong Kong is not consistently disaggregated.

The department produced Hong Kong-specific numbers of protection claims between March and December 2019, following a freedom of information application.