英文

Common Nonsense:Refugees seeking no Refuge but Home

【明報專訊】Most recently the US State Department has announced its intention of prioritising allocations for ''people who have suffered or fear persecution on the basis of religion; for Iraqis whose assistance to the United States has put them in danger; for refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; and for refugees from Hong Kong, Cuba and Venezuela''.

It is no joke that we are now on the list! But, hang on for a sec! Are we really so included? Probably yes, otherwise the establishment figures ranging from Carrie Lam to Ronny Tong wouldn't have scrambled to dismiss and slam the US's such endeavours as mere gestures of intervention. We, no doubt, are Hong Kongers. But are we yet refugees? Who are refugees? Or, with respect, what are refugees indeed?

The Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees signed in 1951 says that a refugee is a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.

It is quite a classical but restrictive definition of refugee that you have to be outside your country and in fear for persecution by your government. For those Hong Kongers staying in their home, even though drowned in the well-founded fear of persecution, would hardly be qualified. The establishment should be relaxed and relieved. However, decades ago, Andrew Shacknove, an Oxford don, suggested a more comprehensible and influential definition by saying that refugees are:

''Persons whose basic needs are unprotected by their country of origin, who have no remaining recourse other than to seek international restitution of their needs, and who are so situated that international assistance is possible.''

What are our basic needs? Human rights, liberty and the freedom from fear! Once we are in constant well-founded fear of being persecuted by the government or authorities, our basic needs are not adequately protected by our country. Are we Hong Kongers in such fear? Depends...depends who you are and whether you are prepared to reflect on what is unfolding before us. Presuming, arguendo, that we are soaked in such fear, are we left without recourse except that of international assistance? This is a much harder question to which the answer lies on how one interprets the sorrow and agitation inflicted on the Hong Kongers and how much, if any, silver lining one is able to see. Nevertheless it's beyond reasonable doubt that even if we are refugees (in Shacknove's sense), we are not betraying any allegiance once owed to our country of origin as wonderfully suggested by Ronny Tong days ago. Tong's flawed observation (not even an argument!) is not definitional, though slightly comical. He fails to observe that the government's rule by fear has effectively severed any allegiance once we owed to our state. We only owe our allegiance to our home.

That's why refugees are not seeking refuge (a shelter sought after famine or natural disaster). They may be seeking for asylum (a new political community free from persecution) and sanctuary (a space where one is protected from the threat to his basic needs and rights) but what they mostly desire is a social and political order which could sustain what he would merrily call ''home''.

''It's easier to give one's allegiance to those we know, to those we see, to those with whom we are embedded, to those with whom we share a community of fear,'' wrote Susan Sontag. When Hong Kong becomes a community of fear, we still owe our allegiance to each other, fellow Hong Kongers, because this is still our home.

■/ Glossary 生字 /

well-founded 有正當理由的

avail youself of sth 利用

flawed 錯漏的

comical 滑稽的

sever 斷絕

merrily 興高采烈地

by Lawrence Lau•劉偉聰

​Lawrence is a life debater who has to debate with his life. Being a barrister makes him a living while reading and writing gives him a life. Meet his cat 寅恪.

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