06/27/2006, 00.00
HONG KONG
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Thousands of people without identity or rights

They are children of residents of the region who were not granted a residence permit for bureaucratic reasons. They live in the shadows to avoid expulsion, hoping for an amnesty amid indifference.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/SCMP) – For years, thousands of Chinese have been living in Hong Kong without documents or rights, hoping to obtain a residence permit amid general indifference.

They are children of permanent residents of the city, who did not obtain permits for bureaucratic reasons. They are afraid of being sent away and they live hidden at home, without regular jobs.

Hong Kong's Basic Law grants the right of abode to children of permanent residents, but it does not specify whether at least one parent had to be a resident of at the time of their child's birth. Some years ago, thousands of children came, asking the Court to recognize their status.

The Court of Final Appeal ruled on January 29, 1999 that children born to permanent residents were entitled to stay, even if they were not so at the time of birth. But the following June, the National People's Congress Standing Committee, fearing the arrival of 1.67 million people, granted this right only to those born to parents who were already permanent residents. In January 2002, the Court of Final Appeal confirmed this interpretation and ordered all the rest to leave the territory.

Many people returned to China, but at least 8,000 stayed, preferring to leave a clandestine life. According to the Immigration Department, there are still at least 150 "absconders", but private associations speak of thousands, living without valid papers or rights, hoping for a future amnesty.

In the eighties, when Beijing opened up to the world, people had to pay large sums of money on the "black market" to get permission to settle in Hong Kong. In the nineties, children were allowed to reunite with their parents, but many were already over the maximum age of 14 years, later extended to 18 and now to 20 years, in some cases.

Parents of children who were sent away have continued to protest doggedly: twice a week, they rally outside the Chater Garden (a park where public protests are often held, near the Palace of the Legislative Council) or outside the government's central offices. And every month they hold a protest march. But all this takes place amid prevalent indifference.

"Family reunion is a basic human right," said Jackie Hung Ling-yu, project officer with the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese. Together with a handful of other groups, the organization has been lobbying for a resolution to the situation.

The government of Hong Kong concedes 150 one-entry permits per day.

It would be enough if 10 of them were reserved for these people, so they would be able to enter in a legal manner, said Chow Kwok-fai, who leads the Association for Parents Fighting for the Implementation of their Children's Right of Abode.

"Now there are less than 5,000. If each day, 10 of them were allowed to enter, it would take just 18 months for all of them to arrive," she said.

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