pics: DAMBAR KRISHNA SHRESTHA
The number of Nepalis seeking political asylum in Hong Kong is on the rise, even as the government has stopped issuing and renewing student and work visas.
For those who do manage to make it here the outlook is often gloomy. Ram Bahadur Neupane of Tehrathum and Hari Limbu of Taplejung paid job agents Rs 350,000 each for a passage to Hong Kong via Singapore and Shenzen, but neither have jobs. Both have applied for political asylum. Raju Shrestha of Thankot came to Hong Kong while the war was going on six years ago, and has told the authorities the Maoists will kill him for being an informant if he goes back.
In 2005 alone, about 1,500 Nepalis applied for asylum with the UNHCR in Hong Kong, saying their lives were under threat at home. Although the war has ended, some 100 Nepalis have applied for refugee status in the first six months of 2008 citing fear of persecution in the Madhes.
Legal consultant Dashuram Parajuli, blames the lack of diplomatic pressure from Nepal as well as administrative discrimination by the Hong Kong government for treating Nepalis shabbily.
"The numbers of Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians living illegally is far greater than Nepalis but they are granted work and student visas," he told Nepali Times, "why are Nepalis singled out?"
When Hong Kong passed a law granting citizenship to those born here before 1983, there was a steep rise in the number of Nepalis emigrating here. But more recently many Nepalis who are duped by job recruiters get stranded and then apply for asylum in order to stay on.
The president of the Nepal Chamber of Commerce here, Tej Rai, explains: "If the government tightens the law back home and books rogue recruiters, the problem of fake refugees would be resolved and the Hong Kong ban on visas would be lifted."
After the UNHCR verifies a Nepali as a genuine refugee, they are repatriated to third countries and are not allowed to stay on in Hong Kong. Many who were considered genuine refugees have been resettled in Norway.
Hong Kong's pull towards Nepalis is strong. There is a sizeable Nepali community here already and most want their relatives to join them. Those who are working here in construction, or as security guards or domestics earn considerably more (Rs 50,000-Rs 200,000 a month) than in Malaysia or the Gulf, and that is an added attraction.
Maya Rai of Kathmandu is the president of the Domestic Helpers' Union and says domestics can have their work visas renewed if their employers allow them to stay on, but many others have to return or stay on illegally if their visas expire. The number of Nepali domestics in Hong Kong has dropped by half to 1,000 since the ban on work visas five years ago.