Hong Kong Burmese, minorities due for citizenship | Connect Asia

Hong Kong Burmese, minorities due for citizenship

Hong Kong Burmese, minorities due for citizenship

Posted 1 April 2009, 11:28 AEDT

Britain is still dealing with its colonial past in Asia.

On Wednesday the British House of Lords will decide whether or not the country should offer citizenship to hundreds of stateless members of Hong Kong's ethnic minorities.

Many see Hong Kong's ethnic minorities as victims of London's irregular immigration policies in the run-up to the handover of the territory to China in 1997.

Presenter: Kanaha Sabapathy

Law Yuk Kai, director of Hong Kong's Human Rights Monitor; Kewalram Sital, former chairman of the Council of Indian Associations in Hong Kong

SABAPATHY: Nearly twelve years after the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, some one thousand people on the island, mainly of South Asian origin, have no place to call home.

As non ethnic Chinese they are not automatically eligible to Hong Kong's SAR passport nor to mainland Chinese citizenship.

Those who were denied full British citizenship prior to the pull out were given the British National Overseas or BNO passports ...which gave the holder no right of abode in Britain but could be used as a travel document.

Law Yuk Kai, director of Hong Kong's Human Rights Monitor says by so doing Britain failed to keep to its pre-departure promises.

LAW: The British have not fully carried out their promise that anybody who is affected by the handover of Hong Kong to become stateless would be granted full British citizenship.

SABAPATHY: Now the amendments to the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill seeks to rectify the irregularities in the awarding of British citizenship.

But according to a spokesman at the British consulate in Hong Kong if passed it could still bar Hong Kong Chinese holding BNO passports from applying for full citizenship. Mr Law explains.

LAW: To the Chinese authority, the so-called British-Chinese here are still Chinese. Once they are Chinese they are Chinese and so UK consider that they are not stateless, and so they are not offer any full citizenship.

SABAPATHY: For Kewalram Sital the news of an amendment to the Immigration Bill comes as a pleasant suprise.

As the chairman of the Council of Indian Associations in Hong Kong in the years leading up to the handover he had led many representations on behalf of the ethnic minorities and has been continuing the cause since.

SITAL: During this time, we have been making several representation to the British consulate here that some people were very badly affected and they always brought the cases to our knowledge and we've been writing and we've been making personal meetings with the authorities. Press that has changed their minds and they have started since the number in all are so small, better make them happy.

SABAPATHY: But its still not clear what is to become of those children born to these people after the handover.

The spokesman at the British consulate in Hong Kong was only able to tell me that this issue is still up for debate in parliament.

Mr Law from the Human Rights Monitor says it's these sorts of issues that have created uncertainties in the lives of these people for so long.

LAW: We are not sure about say the future of the next generation, so these kind of uncertainty deprive people of nationality, it is a gross violation of say the rights of the child and creates a lot of difficulties as far as some civilian political rights are concerned and also creates difficulties when they travel. On the top of that, we have quite a problem of whether we offer people protection to ethnic minorities in Hong Kong.

SABAPATHY: For all these years these stateless ethnic minorities were allowed to stay at the discretion of the Hong Kong government and were issued a SAR identity card.

Mr Sital says despite being stateless many did not face any harassment after the British left the colony.

SITAL: Politically nothing has affected them, also businesses, as the Chinese leaders have been saying that one country, two systems. They have maintained that equation.

SABAPATHY: Nonetheless Mr Law says they have never had the full rights and protections of a citizen.

LAW: In theory, in Hong Kong, all people are equal before the law, so they would not for reason that they are stateless would automatically deprive of all kinds of rights. But that is why it is their entitlement to the Hong Kong SAR passport is concerned. They are not eligible, because they are not Chinese, and also some kind of rights, especially only offer available to those people who have a certain nationality.

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