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Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Refugees are people who cannot return to their home country due to established apprehension of different circumstances that require international protection, such as persecution and violence, whilst asylum-seekers refer to those whose refugee status are in the process of being evaluated.


Hong Kong does not grant asylum as it is not a signatory to the United Nations’ 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, but the government is obliged to consider and screen claims for non-refoulement protection against expulsion, return or extradition from Hong Kong to another country on the basis that removing them to another country would expose them to a risk of: torture as defined under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT); torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under Article 3 of section 8 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights (Cap 383); and/or persecution with reference to the principle of non-refoulement under Article 33 of the Refugee Convention even though Hong Kong is not a signatory to it.


The system is known as the Unified Screening Mechanism (USM) which has been operated by the Government (administered by the Department of Immigration) instead of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Hong Kong since March 2014.  The screening process can, however, be time-consuming, and asylum-seekers cannot work or claim other types of benefits while they are waiting for the decision on their applications; they rely on social welfare stipends of a housing allowance of HK$1,500, supermarket coupons and donations from charities.  Even if they succeed in their claim and do not have to be returned to their countries of origin, they will not be given any form of lawful residence and can only apply for a six-month work permit in Hong Kong.



Refugees & Asylum Seekers
Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a grave violation of human rights which involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons through threat or the use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim[1] for the purposes of forced labour, sexual slavery, or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others.


In Hong Kong, human trafficking has become a growing trend.  Since 2016, the jurisdiction has been placed under Tier 2 Watch List in the Trafficking in Persons annual report produced by the U.S. State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which ranks governments based on their perceived efforts to acknowledge and combat human trafficking.


Hong Kong does not have specific anti-trafficking laws and is not a signatory to the Palermo Protocol.  It merely depends on its Immigration Ordinance, the Crimes Ordinance, and other relevant laws such as the Employment Ordinance to prohibit trafficking offenses.  The Hong Kong government introduced the Action Plan to Tackle Trafficking in Persons and to Enhance Protection of Foreign Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong in March 2018.  However, there is still a lack of increasing efforts by the government to trace and combat trafficking and to protect victims and provide remedies.



Journal Articles/ Other Papers

Trafficking of Mainland Chinese Women into Hong Kong Sex Industry: Problems of Identification and Response
- by Robyn Emerton, Karen Laidler & Carole Petersen

 (2007) Asia-Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law 2, 35-84

Bureaucratic Justice: The Incarceration of Mainland Chinese Women Working in Hong Kong's Sex Industry 

- by Robyn Emerton, Karen Laidler & Carole Petersen

(2007) International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 51(1), 1-16

Translating International and Regional Trafficking norms into Domestic Reality: A Hong Kong Case Study - by Robyn Emerton

(2004) Buffalo Human Rights Law Review 10, 215-260

Migrant Nightclub/ Escort Workers in Hong Kong: An Analysis of Possible Human Rights Abuses (April 2003)
by Robyn Emerton & Carole Petersen

Newspaper Articles

The Next Step - by Grenville Cross

(5 August 2011) South China Morning Post, 'Insight', A15

Research Reports

Migrant Nightclub/ Escort Workers in Hong Kong: An Analysis of Possible Human Rights Abuses (April 2003) 
- by Robyn Emerton & Carole Petersen

Trafficking of Women into Hong Kong for the Purpose of Prostitution: Preliminary Research Findings (February 2001)
- by Robyn Emerton

Book Chapters

"Filipina Nightclub Hostesses in Hong Kong: An Analysis of their Vulnerability to Trafficking and Human Rights Violations and a Comparison with the Situation of Foreign Domestic Helpers in Hong Kong" in Hewison and Young (eds), Transnational Migration and Work in Asia, Routledge London and New York: 2006, 126-143
by Robyn Emerton & Carole Petersen

Migrant Domestic Workers

Migrant Domestic Workers

There are approximately 400,000 foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong.  The absence of adequate social and legal protection has, however, often been criticised by local human rights groups.  There is also an increase of reported cases of physical and verbal abuse, forced labour and discrimination in recent years.


Under the local legislation, it is mandatory for migrant domestic workers to live with their employers (the ‘live-in requirement’) which often leads to concerns over privacy, long working hours and poor living conditions.  They are also required to leave the city within two weeks of their contract being terminated unless they manage to find another employer (the ‘two-week rule’), which does not apply to other foreign workers.  Both rules have been condemned by United Nations bodies such as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Human Rights Committee.


Migrant domestic workers are only entitled to a minimum allowable wage, which would be less than the statutory minimum wage.  Many of them are overcharged by employment agencies and are therefore heavily indebted.  Unlike other foreign workers, they have no access to the right of abode in Hong Kong even after residing in Hong Kong ordinarily for seven continuous years (Vallejos v Commissioner of Commissioner of Registration).



Conferences & Seminars

Domestic Workers' Roundtable Hosted by CCPL (24 April 2015)

More by Chance? Indonesian Domestic Workers as Litigants in Hong Kong (28 July 2014)

Research Projects


Human Rights Action Plans 2012


CCPL’s Hong Kong Human Rights Action Plan consisted of all of the current recommendations to Hong Kong from UN human rights bodies. There were 145 recommendations dating back to 2005. While some of these recommendations have already been addressed, many still require attention and effective measures that come from better policy-making and new thinking. This Action Plan highlighted those human rights areas where Hong Kong is weak and it showed that it is the most vulnerable members of our society who are in need of protection. These include women, children, non-residents, ethnic minorities, asylum seekers, and human trafficking victims. It is here that Hong Kong falls below international standards.

The Human Rights Action Plan is an initiative from CCPL that aimed to promote public discussion of human rights in Hong Kong and better compliance with international human rights standards.


Faculty Expertise


Kelley-Loper (2).jpeg

Kelley Loper
Associate Professor


Puja Kapai
Associate Professor of Law


Lindsay Ernst
Lecturer in
Human Rights Experiential Learning


Stephanie Biedermann
Senior Lecturer

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