• Signs of stalling over asylum plan

    Changes to the screening of asylum seekers have been postponed, but authorities maintain a reworked system will be launched “as soon as possible”.

    Concern groups for foreigners seeking temporary refuge in the city have questioned the government’s commitment to streamlining the assessment process, pointing to its refusal to set a deadline.

    Last year, the government indicated that the revisions were to come on stream by the end of 2013. Yesterday, the Immigration Department said a definite deadline had never been set.

    “We hope it will be [ready] as soon as possible so that we won’t have to wait until the end of this year for the new mechanism [to take effect],” deputy secretary for security Maggie Wong Siu-chu told a Legislative Council panel on welfare services.

    Currently, the three types of claims – torture, persecution and the risk of being subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment if repatriated – are assessed independently.

    The government says the system invites exploitation, as some claimants prolong their stay by filing one claim at a time.

    A new unified screening mechanism would consider all three claims in one go.

    “It’s incredibly disappointing,” Refugee Advice Centre executive director Aleta Miller said. “They are definitely stalling the implementation of the new mechanism.” Miller said the delay would only add to the already high anxiety of asylum seekers and create a backlog of cases.

    The government’s proposal to raise the rent allowance for asylum seekers by HK$300 to HK$1,500 also came under fire from pan-democratic legislators on the panel, who said this was still far from adequate.

    “What the government is doing now is forcing them to work illegally so that they would get arrested and repatriated,” independent lawmaker Wong Yuk-man said.

    Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, of the Labour Party, and Emily Lau Wai-hing, of the Democratic Party, urged the government to bring the allowances on a par with the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance scheme for Hongkongers.

    The Social Welfare Department said the current level was appropriate and estimated that HK$1,200 covered the full cost of rent paid by 13 per cent of asylum seekers, and that 73 per cent of asylum seekers would benefit from the HK$300 increase to HK$1,500 in rent allowance.

    “The allowance is humanitarian aid, not welfare,” Maggie Wong said.

    The humanitarian package, proposed by the department and the Security Bureau, is expected to take effect next month.

    South China Morning Post 2014-01-14 CITY2 | CITY | HUMAN RIGHTS | By Samuel Chan  Signs of stalling over asylum plan

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