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Response on torture claim screening policy

     In response to media enquiries, an Immigration Department (ImmD) spokesman said today (October 30) that the allegation that the ImmD had adopted a "zero acceptance policy" in torture claim screening was unfounded.

     The spokesman said that the ImmD had introduced an enhanced screening mechanism for torture claims (enhanced mechanism) in December 2009 to ensure that screening procedures would meet the high standards of fairness required by courts of law. The enhancements introduced include the provision of publicly-funded legal assistance to claimants, improved training for decision makers and new petition procedures involving adjudicators with a legal background.

     Under the enhanced mechanism, claimants are given every opportunity to establish their claims, including submitting detailed grounds for a claim through a questionnaire with supporting documents or evidence, attending a screening interview with immigration officers to further provide information or answer questions, and making further representations to adjudicators in a petition if aggrieved by the ImmD's decision.

     The ImmD (and adjudicators on petition cases) must consider each claim on its own merits and take into account all relevant considerations before making a decision. If they are satisfied that there are substantial grounds for believing that a claimant would be subject to a personal risk of being tortured if removed from Hong Kong, they must decide on the claim as substantiated.

     Publicly funded legal assistance through the Duty Lawyer Service is available to each claimant upon application. At present some 260 barristers and solicitors who have received training in handling torture claims are listed on a roster as available to provide legal assistance to claimants throughout the entire screening process. To date, around 90 per cent of claimants have had the support of duty lawyers during the process.

     "Claimants aggrieved by the ImmD's decision may lodge a petition. Of all cases decided by the ImmD so far, 48 per cent lodged a petition," the spokesman added.

     From the commencement of the enhanced mechanism in December 2009 to October 28, 2012, the ImmD decided on 2 450 claims. A total of 1 180 claimants who were refused lodged a petition. Around 5 200 claims are pending a decision. Claimants are mostly illegal immigrants or over-stayers from south or southeast Asian countries including Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines and others.

     The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment has applied in Hong Kong since 1992. Under Article 3 of the Convention, a person should not be expelled, returned or extradited to another place if there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture in that place. Torture claims made under the Convention are handled by the ImmD.

     The Immigration (Amendment) Ordinance 2012, which underpins the enhanced mechanism, was passed by the Legislative Council (LegCo) in July 2012 and will commence on December 3, 2012 subject to negative vetting by LegCo, putting in place statutory procedures for handling torture claims thereafter.

Ends/Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Issued at HKT 18:24


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