Asylum-seeker and refugee children are entitled to receive HKD 1,200 food subsidies, to be top-up on a food card every month (used to be food coupon). And children under 3 will receive HKD 750 housing allowance and children who are over three years old will receive HKD 1,500 like their parents.
With special requests or under extenuating circumstances, the International Social Service (ISS) could decide to give a full housing allowance for children under 3. And this also subject to the ISS’s discretion. All these do not have money that goes directly to the parents. As parents are not allowed to work, children are deprived of usual rights that a child with citizenship can enjoy. For example, children will not be able to buy books, toys and children cannot borrow books from the library as they are not eligible to get a library card to borrow books. Children can still enjoy free education but they are not subsidized on extra-curricular activities as their parents have no money and books and uniform. For children who are studying kindergarten, it was only starting in September 2017 that the children studying in kindergarten became eligible to apply for subsidies that covered books and uniforms. Before that, they were only allowed to have remission on school fees and snacks. The problem with this kind of subsidies is that they do not pay the applicants in advance and very often, parents of these children will need to pay first and receive reimbursement later. Therefore, parents are forced to borrow money from friends, NGOs or churches to pay for the deposit or they risk losing the place. Discrimination is rife in accepting asylum-seeker and refugee children. While there are schools which are sympathetic and happy to take children who are holding the immigration papers, others refuse to take asylum-seeker and refugee children and state very clearly that they only take children with Hong Kong citizenship and some do not even know what immigration papers or non-refoulement claimants are. And they are unwilling to facilitate these children as well.
Worse still, like their parents, children need to go to signing in at the immigration office ranging from every week to every month or every two months, under the discretion of the immigration officer. Children are not allowed to take leave even if they are going to school. Therefore, very often they will miss classes and some of the schools who are not sympathetic will complain about the children’s attendance record. Talented children are not encouraged to represent their schools to compete or perform outside the Hong Kong territory since they bear the criminal case of “overstaying”, should they leave the territory, they will not be allowed to return to Hong Kong. As a result, refugee children cannot go overseas for study tours or academic exchanges. They are confined and they are deprived of what every child should receive equal access of education. Children who finish secondary school will not be able to attend universities in Hong Kong since universities are not free. And even if they are sponsored by individuals, they won’t be able to work in Hong Kong as they are not allowed to work.
These children, abandoned by the Hong Kong government, despised and neglected until recently, are facing forced and sudden removal with their parents as their parents are now being told, threatened at times, or misguided to sign the removal order that allows the government to remove them anytime, should their case finish or eve入n before they are finished with the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. They could be suddenly taken away from school anytime. Children whose parents are from different countries and have applied for non-refoulement are also in the limbo and in danger of forced separation. Children’s cases are attached to only one of the parents. If one of the parents whose case is not combined with the children, they may be separated from their children with no hope of seeing their children in foreseeable future.
These children, who may be or with parents who defy their own parental consent, may face abandonment when they are forcibly removed from Hong Kong since they bring shame to their family. Some of them may face being sold or trafficked because of their precarity when they return to their home country. The Hong Kong Government, paying no heed to the danger these children are facing, are indirectly becoming the source and catalyst facilitating human trafficking of children.
Asylum-seeker and refugee children – The hope and future of our Society
As Hong Kong’s population is dwindling, ranked second lowest birthrate in Asia, and there are only 700 to 800 of these asylum-seeker children in Hong Kong, we should think of granting these children the rights of abode. Born and raised in our territory with multilingual ability, these children will be our assets rather than our liability for the sustainable growth of Hong Kong and for the territory to maintain its competitiveness in the long run.
Written by Isabella Ng – Founder of The Hong Kong Society for Asylum-Seekers and Refugees