Hong Kong in 1997

The article ``Hong Kong citizens push for democracy,'' Nov. 24, contains a number of incorrect assertions on the steps being taken toward a more representative government in Hong Kong. The article states that in 1984: Britain had pledged to allow Hong Kong residents to directly elect a minority of the 57 members of the colony's Legislative Council next year. This is not true. After a 1984 public opinion survey, the Hong Kong government issued a policy document which, among other things, promised to review the development of representative government in 1987, including the possibility of direct elections.

The people of Hong Kong were given four months in which to comment. They did so enthusiastically and on an unprecedented scale - 130,000 submissions were sent to an independent survey office which published its report last month. It is important to note that the survey office was not asked to analyze the submissions, only to collate and present the views to allow people to draw their own conclusions.

No decision has been made yet on what steps will be taken in 1988, but the Hong Kong government remains firmly committed to taking those views into account when it publishes its policy document on the subject early next year.

The ``exodus'' of Chinese residents from Hong Kong, stated as a result of anxiety over the future, owes as much to history as to any recent phenomenon. There has always been a steady flow of emigrants from Hong Kong seeking new lives in North America and Australia, as the thriving Chinese communities there bear witness.

Although Hong Kong does not keep specific records on emigration, a comparison of departures and arrivals shows that Hong Kong residents are either leaving at a slower rate, or more of them are returning, than some years ago.

This year the figure is expected to increase, mainly because the American, Canadian, and Australian governments have increased their quotas substantially, or in other ways have made immigration easier.

There is no doubt a ``1997 factor'' in the considerations of some of the departees, but there is ample evidence - not least in a booming economy enjoying double-digit growth and overfull employment - of confidence in Hong Kong's future secured by the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which guarantees Hong Kong's current capitalist economy and life style for 50 years beyond 1997. Kerry McGlynn New York Hong Kong Economic Affairs Office Director

Reaching out to refugees I was very glad to see the article ``Plight of Sudan's `displaced' people: `illegal residents' in their own land,'' Nov. 24.

I'd like to point out that the phenomenon of ineligibility for refugee aid is not limited to those displaced within the borders of their own countries. I have met a sizable number of displaced Africans in the past year, and many who do ``flee across borders because they fear racial, religious, political, or social persecution'' are not considered refugees by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. Therefore, they are not eligible for food, medical care, and shelter from this agency or others.

The definition of ``refugee'' is very specific, and fleeing civil war and starvation does not automatically qualify one for refugee status. Without official refugee status, a person cannot obtain a visa for passage to another country. The choice thus remains to return to their country and possibly face worse persecution than before they left, or to remain illegally in an unwilling host country. This predicament is of course related to the quotas on immigrants imposed by developed countries.

Is there any hope in sight? Some will testify that there is. People living or traveling in places such as Egypt have been able to reach out to refugees, whether officially categorized as such or not. These people have had a significant impact on individual lives, albeit in a relatively small number of cases. I tend to think that it is lack of awareness rather than lack of concern that keeps these instances rare. Certainly more can be done.

For a start, if each traveler to Africa were to take in not only the sights, but also the signs of the times, and seek out even a small way to ameliorate the situation of refugees, perhaps we would eventually read a more hopeful headline. No effort is too small when human lives are at stake. Annie C. Higgins River Forest, Ill.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.