Tuesday, October 24, 2006

South China Morning Post

South China Morning Post
Monday, October 23, 2006


There is still a deafening silence from the UK consulate on the position of the many children in Hong Kong who continue to wait for British citizenship certificates after Home Office officials agreed their original applications had been wrongly refused.

There was a time, sadly, when Britain encouraged Indian British National (Overseas) passport holders to look to India to resolve their nationality difficulties. On July 25, 1991, in a debate on the statelessness faced by these people, India's former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told the Indian Parliament that "the attitude of the British government is wrong and is based on apartheid". In the same debate, the Indian minister of external affairs said that "the government has time and again represented to the British government, saying that these people are your citizens and you must take care of them and protect their rights".

The British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1997 was enacted only after expressions of concern in both houses of parliament and representations from the governor of Hong Kong, two former incumbents, the Hong Kong Legislative Council, the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, and a former minister with responsibility for the colony. At the time, Britain's prime minister said that the ethnic minorities "were potentially stateless" and that they would "now have a nationality".

After being wrongly refused nine years ago, why have so many applicants been waiting up to eight months, when the Home Office has agreed to process their reconsiderations in five weeks? Why does the British consulate not respond to the many e-mails, telephone calls and letters from affected applicants? What is it doing to help those who have received citizenship certificates which contain errors?

Every six months, Britain's foreign secretary issues a report to Parliament on Hong Kong. The report of February 2003 stated that the British government "regularly raises the lack of racial discrimination legislation as an issue with the Hong Kong government". Perhaps our Foreign Office should take a closer look at our own treatment of Hong Kong's solely British ethnic minorities before trying to preach to others.

LORD AVEBURY, House of Lords, and TAMEEM A. EBRAHIM, London

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