How Hong Kong handled refugee problems

YearPopulation
1841 7450
1848 21000
1861 122000
1897 254000
1898 354000
1931 500000
1941 1600000
1944 600000
1947 1800000
1951 2070000
1961 3209000
1971 3848179
1990 5859100
2001 6700000

The area of Hong Kong is 410 square miles, roughly 20 miles by 20.5 miles, and yet the population today is nearly 6.7 million.

You will have noticed that there is a marked jump between the years 1931 to 1941, from 500000 to 1600000 (0.5 million to 1.6 million), this was because of the China-Japan war, and many refugees escaped to Hong Kong.

After Pearl Harbour, Japan quickly overran Hong Kong, and once it conquered Hong Kong, it deported people back to Canton, and the population dropped to 600000 (0.6 million) in 1944.

After Japan surrendered, people returned to Hong Kong, and the population jumped back to 1800000 (1.8 million) in 1947.

During the 10 years from 1951 to 1961, the population jumped from 2070000 to 3209000 (2 million to 3.2 million), an increase of nearly 1.2 million, this was because of the Cultural Revolution in China, and the famine that followed the Cultural Revolution, and large number of people crossed the border illegally into Hong Kong.

Now, in the year 2001, we have a population of 6.7 million, on a land of no more than 20 miles by 20.5 miles.

People who arrived here built wooden huts on whatever empty space they could find. But there was always the danger of plague (infected by mice), and fire (because of the over-crowdedness and the huts were built of wood and zinc-plated iron sheet), and refuse contaminating the environment.

In 1953, there was a big fire, and 50000 people were made homeless overnight. Sir Alexander Grantham was Governor of Hong Kong then, and he was a good man. He immediately set up a "Resettlement Department" and put a very capable civil-engineer in charge, who had a mind to work and would not be hindered by red-tape. In a very short time, 7-storey resettlement blocks were built to house the people (see fig.). Rent was very low, affordable by the poor in general.

The rooms and living condition, though primitive, were much better than wooden huts which suffered from leaks and damage from typhoon, and were welcomed by the people.

Over the years, the design has improved a lot, and now, nearly all rooms have self-contained toilet and bathroom.


Reasons why Hong Kong Government can cope and still have surpluses year after year !

  1. There have not been exchange control, and people may invest freely in Hong Kong, and take their profit out. Hence lot of foreign manufacturers set up factories in Hong Kong, and enjoyed the benefit of cheap labour. They provided jobs, and they paid taxes !

  2. There have not been import and export taxes (even nowadays, most goods were not taxed. The refrigerators, the TV sets, the washing machines, .... are ALL NOT taxed. Only car, liquor, cigarette, yacht, ... those luxurious goods are taxed. No sales tax to add paperwork to merchants.)

  3. Government adopted Laissez-faire policy (i.e. no government intervention in commercial activities. People are free to pursue whatever commercial activities they like, as long as they do not break the Laws), hence import, export, re-export, trading, manufacturing, ... all sort of commercial and manufacturing activities flourished.

  4. Religious organizations of whatever denomination may set up branches in Hong Kong. Hence lot of churches from USA, from Canada, from Britain, from Italy, .... set up branches in Hong Kong. They built schools, orphanages, charities, churches, ..... Moreover, Hong Kong government are more than willing to help them by providing them with cheap land and support.

  5. Because of Confucius' teachings, Chinese of the same clan were more than willing to help their own kinsmen. Hence they set up many organizations to provide food and shelter to those refugees of their own clan.

  6. There had been many noble people in Hong Kong. e.g. Mr. Kadorie, who was a Jew, and who was a major shareholder of "China Light and Power Limited", provided electricity to many remote villages in Hong Kong, without charging them "transformer installation fee, cable laying fee", and charged only the electricity they used. One banker from Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, extended help to many organizations. His saying, "What is good for Hong Kong is good for Hong Kong Bank."

  7. Low and very simple taxation. Corporate tax is only 17%, and income tax ranges from 0 to a maximum of 15%. Tax rules are very simple.

  8. The Governors of Hong Kong, prior to McLehose, were all administrators from the British Colonial Office, and who had have many years of administration experience in many British oversea colonies, before being promoted to Governor of Hong Kong. Hence they knew the importance of education, transport, health, telecommunication, justice, .... They built lot of schools, and encouraged the churches and charities to build schools and hospitals.

  9. During the early years of Hong Kong, Government did not have to provide welfare payment to those unemployed ! Hence refugees did not pose any financial burden ! The refugees were taken care of by voluntary organizations and religious organizations and kinsmen-associations, and many of them became self-sufficient in a very short time, because of the Laissez-faire policy. Also, some refugee from Shanghai were very rich, and they brought with them capital and expertise when they fled from the Communists.



Hong Kong sheltered 200,000 Vietnamese Refugees too, apart from refugees from China.

Suggestions for considerations

Many Governments are reluctant to accept refugees, because of the financial and administrative difficulties in providing "welfare and social services". They may learn from Hong Kong.

Give the refugees a piece of land (Hong Kong is no more than 20 miles by 20.5 miles !), and let them fare for themselves. But allow all international religious organizations to help them. Let them set up a government of their own, and have their own law (preferably LORD's Laws and not Roman Law.) and let them organize themselves like Moses when he led the Israelites out of Egypt, a 600,000 men exodus!

Lend money to them, charge them moderate interest (say 5%, and not too much!) and require payment within, say, 30 years. They are lot of wealthy people in this world, who have plenty of money to invest. If banks are unwilling to lend, let those investors lend. I am sure the refugees are capable of repayment.

The refugees themselves may use this borrowed money to build reservoirs to provide water, to build incinerators to burn the refuse to avoid contaminating the environment, to buy generators to provide electricity (may be small scale first), .... , to build up their infra-structure.

Manufacturing capacities are great nowadays, (and China is opening up its vast North-West Region, with more production capacities to come), and the refugees can absorb lot of manufactured goods. It is a pity to see Afghan refugees with no TV set, no refrigerator, no personal computers, no cookers, no .... when Japanese companies and worldwide big companies have excessive capacities, and the world is said to be in recession after the World Trade Center Tragedy !

What is good to the refugees is good to the whole world. Let all countries be generous in accepting refugees.

Wu Siu Yan
1st October, 2001


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Vietnamese refugees inside a 35-meter vessel when it arrived in Hong Kong in 1980.

Hong Kong Government made them bathe themselves. Notice the boats full of people.