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A caseworker working with a client and her interpreter

“You saved my life; you made my life again.”


Miss F bounds into our small office, buoyant with energy and life. For the first time, her volunteer caseworker notes Miss F’s true age…20. The good news that her asylum claim was finally granted has literally peeled the premature years off her face.

 

Miss F was repeatedly detained, beaten, gang raped and abused by militiamen because of her family background and associations. She and her family members suffered unimaginable horrors, and she barely escaped at 17 years of age with her life and mental stability intact. Miss F’s initial application for asylum status in Hong Kong was denied. After being referred to the Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre Ltd. (“HKRAC”) for legal assistance, Miss F was finally able to prove that she deserved asylum. Her joy at hearing her claim was granted marks the start of a new and promising life. She is now awaiting relocation to the United States.


Like Miss F, thousands of refugees flock to Hong Kong each year in order to escape persecution from threats, torture, rape or murder in their home countries. Many are shocked to discover that upon arrival in Hong Kong, refugees do not have any legal protection or recognition, since Hong Kong does not absorb refugees into its territory. Instead, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”) decides who merits international protection. Between 1,500 and 2,500 refugees seek asylum from the Hong Kong office UNHCR each year. Those granted status as refugees are eventually resettled in other countries.


Refugees truly are one of the most vulnerable segments of Hong Kong society. Until recently, refugees in Hong Kong had no access to free legal assistance while navigating the complicated and often scary asylum process. Legal aid during asylum proceedings is essential, since an asylum claim that is mistakenly rejected can expose refugees to imprisonment, torture and even death if they are returned to the place from which they escaped persecution. Thus, HKRAC was founded by human rights lawyers who recognized the tremendous gap in refugee protection in Hong Kong, and believed that legal aid puts dignity back in the hands of the refugees empowering them to help themselves.


Currently, HKRAC is the only dedicated provider of free legal aid to refugees in Hong Kong. We provide general advice, customized legal advice and full representation to refugees who claim asylum at UNHCR. Our staff of four international human rights lawyers also recruit, train and supervise community and law firm volunteers to help our refugee clients. To date, HKRAC has trained 120 lawyers, caseworkers and interpreters, of whom about 20 are active at any given time.


In the 3 years of our existence, HKRAC has represented refugees from over 50 different ethnicities and clans and speakers of 37 different languages. We celebrate the fact that 46% of our clients have successfully received asylum since we opened our doors, and we anticipate this number to rise dramatically since many decisions are still pending. Our success is especially telling since only 10% of claims for asylum made without legal representation are successful. HKRAC has also helped hundreds of refugees through information sessions, drop-in counseling sessions and cooperation with other NGOs.


We also celebrate our success in raising awareness about the rights and struggles of refugees among the general public, students and legal community in Hong Kong. We enjoy good relationships with UNHCR and the Hong Kong government, and are widely recognized as pushing forward a developing pro bono ethic in Hong Kong. Since our services are perceived as helpful, we are welcomed by UNHCR to provide input on improving systems and policies in refugee status determination.

 

We are proud that these accomplishments were made possible by the initial support of the Fu Tak Iam Foundation. Our success is the result of a joint effort between HKRAC staff and our legion of individual caseworkers, interpreters, medical experts, and 5 international law firm partners who dedicate thousands of volunteer hours each month in advising and representing our refugee clients to the highest ethical standard. As a result, HKRAC has met almost every stated objective of our original strategic plan in the first 6 months since we became an independent organization. We now find ourselves in the unexpected and happy position of expanding services to reach more refugees a full year before anticipated.

 

Our strong training program and high standard of client representation has resulted in a solid partnership with 5 “gold standard” international law firms (Freshfields, Latham & Watkins, Linklaters, Shearman & Sterling and Skadden Arps), who have devoted both funds and attorney volunteer hours in support of our refugee legal aid endeavors in Hong Kong. We are also in the process of designing a law clinic program for students at the law faculties of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong University. All this has taken place during the same period of time that we recruited an impressive first Board of Directors and Advisory Board, refined internal operational procedures, and recruited new staff. The pace of progress has been breathless, but we’re thankful for every positive development!

 

It is an honor to see how our work transforms vulnerable people’s lives. For example, one successful client calls us occasionally to express his eternal gratitude for our help. He has found a house, a factory job and a community of friends in his new home in the United States. He has enrolled in university and is planning to purchase a car. In short, he is rebuilding his life in a safe environment. His sentiments are best reflected by another of our clients who said, “You saved my life; you made my life again.”


Our faith in humanity and the role of international law is renewed every time a HKRAC refugee client successfully gains asylum determination at the UNHCR in Hong Kong. All this is possible because of the generous support of loyal donors like the Fu Tak Iam Foundation.

 

A caseworker working with a client and her interpreter

 

“You saved my life; you made my life again.”


Miss F bounds into our small office, buoyant with energy and life. For the first time, her volunteer caseworker notes Miss F’s true age…20. The good news that her asylum claim was finally granted has literally peeled the premature years off her face.

 

Miss F was repeatedly detained, beaten, gang raped and abused by militiamen because of her family background and associations. She and her family members suffered unimaginable horrors, and she barely escaped at 17 years of age with her life and mental stability intact. Miss F’s initial application for asylum status in Hong Kong was denied. After being referred to the Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre Ltd. (“HKRAC”) for legal assistance, Miss F was finally able to prove that she deserved asylum. Her joy at hearing her claim was granted marks the start of a new and promising life. She is now awaiting relocation to the United States.


Like Miss F, thousands of refugees flock to Hong Kong each year in order to escape persecution from threats, torture, rape or murder in their home countries. Many are shocked to discover that upon arrival in Hong Kong, refugees do not have any legal protection or recognition, since Hong Kong does not absorb refugees into its territory. Instead, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”) decides who merits international protection. Between 1,500 and 2,500 refugees seek asylum from the Hong Kong office UNHCR each year. Those granted status as refugees are eventually resettled in other countries.


Refugees truly are one of the most vulnerable segments of Hong Kong society. Until recently, refugees in Hong Kong had no access to free legal assistance while navigating the complicated and often scary asylum process. Legal aid during asylum proceedings is essential, since an asylum claim that is mistakenly rejected can expose refugees to imprisonment, torture and even death if they are returned to the place from which they escaped persecution. Thus, HKRAC was founded by human rights lawyers who recognized the tremendous gap in refugee protection in Hong Kong, and believed that legal aid puts dignity back in the hands of the refugees empowering them to help themselves.


Currently, HKRAC is the only dedicated provider of free legal aid to refugees in Hong Kong. We provide general advice, customized legal advice and full representation to refugees who claim asylum at UNHCR. Our staff of four international human rights lawyers also recruit, train and supervise community and law firm volunteers to help our refugee clients. To date, HKRAC has trained 120 lawyers, caseworkers and interpreters, of whom about 20 are active at any given time.


In the 3 years of our existence, HKRAC has represented refugees from over 50 different ethnicities and clans and speakers of 37 different languages. We celebrate the fact that 46% of our clients have successfully received asylum since we opened our doors, and we anticipate this number to rise dramatically since many decisions are still pending. Our success is especially telling since only 10% of claims for asylum made without legal representation are successful. HKRAC has also helped hundreds of refugees through information sessions, drop-in counseling sessions and cooperation with other NGOs.


We also celebrate our success in raising awareness about the rights and struggles of refugees among the general public, students and legal community in Hong Kong. We enjoy good relationships with UNHCR and the Hong Kong government, and are widely recognized as pushing forward a developing pro bono ethic in Hong Kong. Since our services are perceived as helpful, we are welcomed by UNHCR to provide input on improving systems and policies in refugee status determination.

 

We are proud that these accomplishments were made possible by the initial support of the Fu Tak Iam Foundation. Our success is the result of a joint effort between HKRAC staff and our legion of individual caseworkers, interpreters, medical experts, and 5 international law firm partners who dedicate thousands of volunteer hours each month in advising and representing our refugee clients to the highest ethical standard. As a result, HKRAC has met almost every stated objective of our original strategic plan in the first 6 months since we became an independent organization. We now find ourselves in the unexpected and happy position of expanding services to reach more refugees a full year before anticipated.

 

Our strong training program and high standard of client representation has resulted in a solid partnership with 5 “gold standard” international law firms (Freshfields, Latham & Watkins, Linklaters, Shearman & Sterling and Skadden Arps), who have devoted both funds and attorney volunteer hours in support of our refugee legal aid endeavors in Hong Kong. We are also in the process of designing a law clinic program for students at the law faculties of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong University. All this has taken place during the same period of time that we recruited an impressive first Board of Directors and Advisory Board, refined internal operational procedures, and recruited new staff. The pace of progress has been breathless, but we’re thankful for every positive development!


It is an honor to see how our work transforms vulnerable people’s lives. For example, one successful client calls us occasionally to express his eternal gratitude for our help. He has found a house, a factory job and a community of friends in his new home in the United States. He has enrolled in university and is planning to purchase a car. In short, he is rebuilding his life in a safe environment. His sentiments are best reflected by another of our clients who said, “You saved my life; you made my life again.”


Our faith in humanity and the role of international law is renewed every time a HKRAC refugee client successfully gains asylum determination at the UNHCR in Hong Kong. All this is possible because of the generous support of loyal donors like the Fu Tak Iam Foundation.