Friday, 2 December 2016

Snowden Shines Spotlight on Asylum Seekers

Edward Snowden criticizes Hong Kong on its treatment of asylum seekers
Edward Snowden has popped up again, this time criticizing the Hong Kong government for its treatment of asylum seekers in the city.

The former National Security Agency contractor speaks from experience, as he was sheltered by three groups of asylum seekers when he was in Hong Kong for two weeks in 2013, after he had fled the United States.

In an interview with Canadian news outlet Ricochet Media, Snowden described the poverty, "discrimination and repression" suffered by asylum seekers in Hong Kong.

Snowden criticized the fact that the were not allowed to work in the city, and so they were left "hungry and destitute" as they waited for their claims to be processed.

They cannot work and have barely have enough to live on
At the time he was housed by a Filipino family, as well as a family and a man from Sri Lanka, who are still asylum seekers.

"Hong Kong is one of the richest cities in the world, yet I saw refugees struggling through days, whose poverties were punctuated by discrimination and repression," Snowden said.

"It seems beyond imagination that a government could deny people the right to work for a wage while also refusing them money to eat, instead providing food provisions that were wholly insufficient to survive on, and often spoiled and out of date, but that's how the system worked there."

Food provisions have since been replaced with supermarket coupons worth HK$1,200, along with a monthly housing allowance of HK$1,500 per adult, transport expenses averaging HK$200 per person and HK$300 for utilities.

"Today food coupons and food debit cards with a limited value per month are provided to the asylum seekers, but again it is far from below what is required to survive on. So asylum seekers in Hong Kong are still left hungry and destitute today," he said.

It's an issue Snowden is passionate about because not only was he grateful for these asylum seekers' help in housing them even though they could be caught, but also he could easily have been one of the 10,815 asylum seekers in Hong Kong seeking to have their refugee claims processed.

Activists give voice to asylum seekers, but is anyone listening?
"In my own case, I was told it could take a decade to process an asylum claim," Snowden recalled. "Try to imagine that, if only for a few seconds. For the next 10 years, you'll be arrested if you dare to work, but you're on your own to find sufficient food, to pay the full rent, to pay the full utility bills.

"How long could you last? There is a kind of law which is itself criminal, and this is a clear example," he says.

In Hong Kong asylum seekers are a group of people that literally live on the fringes of society. They aren't very visible, and if they are, it's because they were arrested for selling or trafficking drugs because they were desperate to make extra money to just be able to survive.

Locals hardly ever come into contact with these people, who are not encouraged to integrate, or work -- God forbid they take away jobs from Hong Kong residents.

Aside from refugee activists, Snowden is the only high profile person to speak up for these asylum seekers and educate people on their sad plight in the city.

Greater awareness will hopefully build momentum to shame the government into looking after these people better -- though locals would probably think there are many other more pressing issues in the city to fix first!


  1. I have been in contact with a Nepalese family who have been in Hong Kong for 12 years waiting for their claim to be processed. As you say, they are given virtually nothing to live on and aren't allowed to work. This is not a life. I am not a fan of Edward Snowden but it is good that he has spoken up for these people who do not have a voice. Hopefully more people will be aware of the plight of asylum seekers in Hong Kong now and will help to bring about change.

    1. HI littlekoo! Great to hear from you! We need more people like Snowden to shame the government into doing more for asylum seekers who only want to have a better life.