We asked how many Hongkongers seek asylum in Australia. This is what we found

Exclusive: According to a decade of data obtained by SBS under the Freedom of Information Act, asylum and refugee claims from Hong Kong residents have spiked in the past financial year amid ongoing unrest.

Eldia

Eldia* has been charged with rioting and is seeking protection in Australia. Source: SBS

Protection claims from Hong Kong residents have more than doubled in the past financial year in Australia and increased about five-fold compared to 2017-18.

Since pro-democracy protests began in Hong Kong in June last year, at least 145 people have sought protection in Australia, compared to 62 applications the year before, according to data provided under the Freedom of Information Act. 

The data, obtained by , shows the number of onshore and offshore permanent protection visa applications from Hong Kong passport holders between 1 July 2010 and 30 April 2020. Forty-four people applied in March and April this year. 

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But despite at least 435 applications being made for humanitarian visas in the past decade, fewer than five onshore protection applications have been successful, according to the data available. 



Melbourne migration agent Simon De Vere, who previously worked as an assistant secretary at the Department of Immigration, said the increase in protection visa applications from Hong Kong residents in recent years was "significant" but the number being granted is not surprising. 

"Australia and most of the world has always seen Hong Kong as being a place where the rule of law has been paramount and where people's rights have been protected. 

"That is reflected in the fact that Australia has virtually not granted any protection visa applications in the last 10 years to Hong Kong residents." 



The federal government earlier this month, announced a visa package that included pathways to permanent residency for some Hong Kong residents but did not create a special humanitarian intake for those who fear persecution under China’s new national security law.

Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge has said the government decided not to offer a special humanitarian intake because “we already have a humanitarian visa in place” and “we decided on deliberately targeting serious talent which is in Hong Kong, and businesses which have their regional headquarters in Hong Kong”.

“If people are genuinely persecuted, and they can prove that case, then they can apply for one of our humanitarian visas in any case,” he said.



But he “can’t give that guarantee” that nobody will be sent back. 

"If there’s a serious security issue in relation to that person they will be sent back. If there’s a character concern they will be sent back." 

'Charged for going to a protest'

Eldia* regularly attended protests in Hong Kong last year but maintains he was always peaceful. 

“I was an active protester, but I was not on the frontline, everything I did was peaceful," he said. 

The university student said he was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time when he was arrested and charged with rioting, a criminal offence that carries up to 10 years in prison in Hong Kong. 

Eldia
Eldia* is now in Australia and scared for his future. Source: SBS


“I was charged just for going to a protest, I actually did nothing and all the police found on me was mask but they still charged me anyway,” he said. 

He travelled to Australia, before the coronavirus travel ban came in, on a visitor visa, breaching his bail conditions. He is now worried about his future and has applied for a protection visa.

“If I go back to Hong Kong, because I am on the wanted list, they will probably just send me to jail,” he said. 



Melbourne-based immigration lawyer James Wardlaw, who is representing a number of Hong Kong residents who have applied for asylum in Australia, believes despite the very low numbers of onshore applications being successful in the past 10 years, the recent cohort is different.

“I think with this recent cohort of applicants, many will have pro-democratic, pro-independent political opinions that may be known to authorities, and certainly with the new security laws many present with prima facie claims for refugee status.

"I expect many of those applicants who have recently lodged, there will be a number that will be successful in my view." 

Mr Wardlaw said it takes 18 months up to three years for onshore protection visas to be processed. 



Mr De Vere, who is now director of Migration Services at Stirling Henry Global Migration, said the bar to obtain a protection visa is very high.

“The Refugee Convention makes it clear that in order to get protection, a person must be able to have a well-founded fear of persecution in their homeland and reaching that bar of a well-founded fear of persecution on one of the convention grounds is a difficult thing to do well." 

A spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs told SBS News every request is assessed on a case by case basis.

"An assessment of whether an asylum seeker engages Australia’s protection obligations is based on the individual merits of each case."

*Not his real name

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5 min read
Published 28 July 2020 at 12:52pm
By Lin Evlin, Yiu Wah Lin
Source: SBS