25 March 2022
The postwar decades saw Hong Kong experiencing repeated migration and refugee crises, originating both in mainland China and Vietnam. How were these crises approached by international organizations, and governed by international law, far from these structures’ then-European focus? Drawing on the presenter’s larger work on the history of global migration governance, this talk will address how Hong Kong’s refugee history can help illustrate a split in approaches to refugees and other migrants with reverberations felt to the present day. While both refugee and migration law and organizations initially focused on European refugees in Hong Kong, refugee systems were eventually able to pivot to tackle the broader Chinese refugee crisis. Yet migration governance maintained a divided focus, with its chief organization remaining legally concerned principally with European emigrants. As a consequence, it was only able to assist non-Europeans in “emergency” situations, with Vietnamese refugees cited as a primary example of success. The focus of both systems on refugees in emergencies, however, left lacunae in form of rights monitoring and assistance for regular migrants, and left many migrants scrambling to assert refugee status in ways that have intensified anti-refugee sentiment worldwide.