Asylum seekers and refugees (ASRs) have limited rights in Hong Kong and they are a group of marginalized and ignored population. Due to the backlog of the screening process, it is not unusual for an ASR to stay in Hong Kong for years, with some of them being in Hong Kong for over ten years. They are prohibited to engage in any form of businesses or jobs, except rare exceptions.

During the lengthy screening process and long waiting time, ASRs can only live under limited government and NGO subsidies. Despite their long stay, they are often detached from the society and there is little public awareness of their presence in the city.

Health Program For Asylum Seekers/Refugees
Photo by Billy Kwok

The Right To Health

Health In Action advocates health equity for the underprivileged, including ASRs in Hong Kong. The right to health implies that the government should provide accessible and acceptable basic healthcare to all living in the city. This also includes other health-related services such as nutritious food and safe housing etc. The right to health enshrined in international human rights treaties, such as International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, is applicable to Hong Kong. ASRs can attend basic medical services at public hospitals with their fees waived.

However, experience from ASRs show that there are multiple factors hindering their health care access, including cultural differences, language barriers, lack of awareness of health needs and financial constraints. All these impose negative effects on the physical and mental health of ASRs.

The Right to Health Factsheet

Refugees, Hong Kong, and health
Photo by Billy Kwok

Pilot Projects

Pilot Project 1: Community Participation Program for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Hong Kong

In 2012, HIA first came into contact with the refugee community in Hong Kong. Upon initial health needs assessment, it was found that mental health was the greatest health need. Thus HIA launched a 6-month project to improve the psychological well-being of ASR by engaging them in local community services. This project was the first of its kind that empowered ASRs to serve the local Hong Kong communities in need by contributing ASR’s skills, talents and passions.

Pilot Project 2: Healthy Living Project for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Hong Kong

There has always been a lack of organizations or projects focusing on the health of ASR in Hong Kong. Healthy Living Project is an ongoing 6-month project designed to address some existing health problems faced by the ASR. In this project, the primary beneficiaries are the ASR. Rather than providing direct health assistance to ASR, the aim of this project is to facilitate their use of the existing system and to address the root causes leading to health problems, such as insufficient information on how to access health services.

Current Project Direction

Health In Action mainly provides health education and medical consultation service to ASRs at the moment. Our project aims to promote social equity for ASR through empowering them to maintain good health in Hong Kong. We work to improve ASR health care access, to educate ASRs to acquire health ownership through a preventive health model, to advocate for more equitable health policies, and to promote humanitarianism and social inclusion of ASRs in Hong Kong.

Displaced persons are a dynamic population with changing health needs and concerns. We conduct continuous research on topics including nutritional needs, cultural competence, housing health impact assessments, and more, adopting an evidence-based approach in planning, implementing and evaluating our projects.

If you would like to know more about the services available for ASRs, you can visit our Health Information for Asylum Seekers and Refugees for details.