11/05/2009, 00.00
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Mgr. John Tong writes to the Hong Kong government on the right of abode

The issue has been debated for years: it regards children of Hong Kong residents who are forced to live in China. The Church of Hong Kong has always fought for the right of family reunification. Fr. Mella of PIME: "The government says it is following the situation, but it does nothing concrete."
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - There are hundreds of children "who live in China despite having parents living in Hong Kong. These children have been waiting for too long to meet their families. It is urgent that the Government undertakes steps to expedite this reunification: it is a humanitarian issue".  This is the message at the heart of a letter sent on 21 September by the Bishop of Hong Kong, Msgr. John Tong Hon, to the Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. Is the first time that the prelate has spoken on the issue and shows his profound unity with his predecessors, Card. Zen and the Card. Wu, who were also in favour of the reunification of families.


The issue of Right of abode has been under discussion for at least 10 years born of the plight of the Chinese who fled China to escape to Hong Kong, and who still have children and spouses in China. Lawmakers are questioning whether the children living in China have the right to reside in the territory.

The issue erupted in 1999, when the Court of Final Appeal decided that children of parents residing in the territory have the same right of residence enjoyed by their relatives. The Court allowed in practice for family reunification. But the government of Hong Kong - up to that time led by the Chinese Tung Chee-hwa- objected, fearing an invasion of nearly 2 million people. In reality, at the time the number of claimants was estimated at 200 thousand. To block the threatened invasion, the territorial government put the onus on Beijing to re-interpret the constitution of Hong Kong and the Right of Abode. Beijing, in turn, restricted this right. As a result, many children of Hong Kong citizens are now "illegal".

In 1999 the Church of Hong Kong published a pastoral letter that was highly critical of the government, signed by the then Card. G. Baptist Wu, with the cooperation of the bishops Zen and Tong.

The letter of Mgr. Tong Tsang, was published on the eve of a meeting of the Legislative Council of the Territory, which was to discuss new immigration rules being studied by Beijing. Many human rights groups define the reform as "inadequate" in addressing the needs of those suffering from  family separation. The Chief Executive responded to Msgr. Tong October 7, explaining the details of the government position and discussing the latest developments.

Among the supporters of the Right of Abode there are priests and missionaries like Fr Franco Mella, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, who for the past decade has been fighting for the recognition of this right. "The Territorial Government – he says - has not taken adequate measures to help these people. It says it is following the issue closely, but does nothing in practical terms".

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