Empowerment in The Asylum-seeker Regime? The Roles of Policies, the Non-profit Sector and Refugee Community Organizations in Hong Kong


This article presents an analysis of the extent to which non-governmental or- ganizations (NGOs) and refugee community organizations (RCOs) empower asylum seekers in Hong Kong. Based on 28 in-depth interviews with asylum seekers and five interviews with NGO managers, the author argues that main-stream NGOs adopt the traditional roles of Provider and Liberator, whereas RCOs take up ‘alternative roles’ in addition to a limited range of traditional roles. Mainstream NGOs determine and hierarchize the needs and wants of their clients and cater only to the former. This, in turn, is experienced as disempowerment by service recipients, who feel that the NGOs are not working for the recipients’ benefit, but rather to further their own agenda. RCOs proactively engage in policy advocacy, although this has yet to enhance their popularity among asylum seekers. Overall, the major challenges to empowerment for asylum seekers in Hong Kong are the financial dependence of mainstream NGOs on the government, the Hong Kong government’s perceptions of welfare policy and civil society, the existence of the international refugee regime and disunity among asylum seekers.