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‘Costly’ birth documents hinder return of OFW mothers and children, NGO says

15 July 2018

By Vir B. Lumicao

Filipino migrant women with babies born out of wedlock in Hong Kong are sometimes deterred from going home by the high cost of obtaining birth certificates at the Consulate, says PathFinders, a group helping pregnant women in need.

The non-government organization has asked if some of the fees could be waived to help ease the burden on the women so they could go home with their babies as soon as possible.

But Consul Paul Saret, who heads the assistance to nationals section of the Consulate, said they cannot waive or reduce fees unilaterally because these are set by the Home Office, but they can find other ways to help the women if necessary.

Consul Paul Saret
Consul Saret said that concerned parties could formally request the Department of Foreign Affairs for a fee waiver. PathFinders can also go to the Consulate to discuss the issue.

“We have to evaluate each case and if an applicant is really desperate for help then we will consider it an ATN case,” Saret said.

He said the Consulate is accountable to the Home Office for reductions in income if it waives fees. At the same time, the post should not bear the cost of indiscretion on the part of migrant Filipinos.

The problem over the fees has become urgent as Immigration authorities began speeding up hearing asylum and torture claims in the past year.

In some cases, migrant mothers would rather see their babies become undocumented or give them up for adoption because of the prohibitive fees, a PathFinders officer said.

“Registering babies for birth certificates in the Consulate costs only $200, but for those born out of wedlock, it costs $800 to $1,000. It’s very expensive for the mothers,” said Jessica Chow, co-director of services, social work and healthcare at PathFinders.

PathFinders' Carmen Lam and Jessica Chow.
The additional cost is said to cover the extra documents required before an illegitimate child can be issued a birth certificate. These include fees for amending the personal details of a mother who came to Hong Kong bearing her husband's surname, which she can't give to her child sired by another man.

Chow told The SUN in an interview on Jul 4 that there had been instances where mothers would cancel or delay their planned repatriation because they couldn't pay for their children’s documentation. Under Hong Kong law, the mothers cannot work while their claims are being processed.

When that happens, she said, the NGO would try to find partners who would shoulder the cost of documentation and repatriation of both mother and child.

The Immigration Department has been speeding up its screening of asylum and torture claims and sending back home those who fail the process, in line with the Security Bureau chief’s call last year for faster reduction of the backlog.

As of the end of March, there were 255 Filipinos among the 4,420 claimants for non-refoulement, or against being sent back home, according to Immigration data. This is nearly half the peak of 483 Filipino applicants at the end of September 2016.

Carmen Lam, director of community education and outreach at PathFinders, told The SUN that the NGO is also adjusting to the new situation.   

“We have heard a lot of recent cases… facing deportation who were being repatriated quickly. Therefore, we have further developed our Home Country Integration Programme initiatives and strengthened our partnership with our community partners in assisting our migrant mothers and children to reintegrate in their home country,” Lam said. 

Lam said that in early September, a PathFinders team will visit the Philippines to evaluate the impact of the reintegration program and see what improvements need to be made, if any.

In a meeting in May with officials from the Consulate and other community partners, PathFinders obtained key contacts in the country who could help the returning mothers and children ease their way into Philippine society.

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