Asylum seekers must be given jabs: rights group

An NGO and a Hong Kong church leader on Tuesday called on the government to provide asylum seekers with free coronavirus vaccines.

There are around 13,000 asylum seekers in Hong Kong, according to the Security Bureau, but they aren’t eligible for vaccines because they aren’t SAR residents.

Human rights group Justice Centre said asylum seekers should also be protected during the pandemic.

“Covid-19 does not discriminate between immigration status, race and residency status,” said Rachel Li, the centre’s research and policy officer. “Refugees and asylum seekers live in the community with everyone, so if there is an outbreak it affects everybody.”

She added that if there are spare vaccines, given Hong Kong’s low inoculation rate, the government should seriously consider extending the vaccination programme to asylum seekers.

Andrew Gardener, a senior pastor at the Vine church which provides support to asylum seekers, said if the government’s objective is to get the city out of the pandemic, it makes sense to allow asylum seekers to get jabs.

“The [UN Refugee agency] has gone out and said we want to encourage as many states in the world to make vaccination available to asylum seekers or forcibly displaced people. I certainly think that as an international city, Hong Kong should be thinking about that within our own borders here and align with the UNHCR on this effort,” Gardener said.

A specialist in infectious diseases, Dr Wilson Lam, agreed that the government should provide vaccines to asylum seekers, saying they have a higher risk of contracting Covid-19 because crowded living conditions can facilitate transmission of the virus.

“They tend to work together in small circles. If there are confirmed cases in these groups of people, it may not be as easy to trace the contacts by the Centre for Health Protection. It could be a loophole contributing to another wave of infections in Hong Kong,” he said.

In response, the Civil Service Bureau – which is in charge of the city’s vaccination programme – said the government will consider in a timely manner providing vaccines to non-Hong Kong residents, depending on the supply available and progress with the inoculation drive.