For eight years, Bawah ran. A minority in his West African country, he ran from the Bimoba tribe. He ran at night and in the rain, and when they fractured his left hand. Finally in 2005, fearing for his life, he ran much, much farther -- to Hong Kong.
But now Bawah faces the opposite problem: His life has ground to a halt. First, he failed to get refugee status at the UN Refugee Agency and lost his appeal. Then, he applied to the Hong Kong government, asking them not to send him home for fear of torture, and lost. As he prepared to appeal, the system for screening claims like his was ruled unfair and went into hiatus. When it started again, he lost. In all, he has spent the same amount of time in limbo as he did running.
"I fled after moving within my country failed," said the former teacher, 40, who asked to be identified by his nickname for fear of recrimination from the authorities. "In a fire, people flee through a door without knowing what will be on the other side. What I did not know was that I would fall into another fire."
Here's how Hong Kong's system for vetting asylum seekers works or, some would say, doesn't. The Refugee Convention does not apply to Hong Kong. Unlike many countries, it does not vet refugee claims, but refers them to the UN Refugee Agency. Since the UN enjoys diplomatic immunity, its decisions are not open to judicial scrutiny. The UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, however, does apply, so asylum seekers can make claims to the government under it. But this, critics say, has its own flaws.