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Filipina advocate of refugees & migrants succumbs to long-term ailments

06 November 2021

By Vir B. Lumicao 

Panares in a goofy photo posted by her brother Sonny on Facebook

A longtime Filipina champion of refugees and ethnic minorities in Hong Kong passed on in hospital on Nov. 4 after a long battle with a number of ailments, including hypertension and diabetes, before succumbing to sepsis.

The death of Adrielle Pañares, head of the Migrants Programme of the International Social Service (Hong Kong branch) was announced to her colleagues by their chief executive, Stephen Yau, via email on Thursday morning.

“She fought a long battle with a number of serious illnesses throughout the past years, and was admitted to hospital in mid-October due to sepsis. Words cannot express my pain of losing such a dedicated and extraordinary colleague and companion,” Yau said.

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He hailed Pañares for contributing “her entire life to the betterment of welfare of refugees, torture claimants and ethnic minorities, heading the Programme for Non-Refoulement Claimants, which may arguably be the most complex and demanding social welfare programme in Hong Kong, with grit, confidence and style.”

Pañares came to Hong Kong in 1991 to initially work under the Vietnamese Migrants Programme of ISS. She then went on to head the non-government organization’s Migrants Programme which serves not only ethnic minorities but also non-refoulement claimants.

News about Pañares’ passing came as a shock not just to her colleagues and members of the Filipino community, but also to the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers she had served for the greater part of her life.


“Thank you, Adrielle, for your untiring commitment and passion in caring for those in the margins, especially the asylum seekers, refugees, and migrant workers!” the Mission for Migrant Workers said in a post on Facebook.

At the time of her death, Pañares’ was the chairperson of the Coalition of Service Providers for Ethnic Minorities that includes the Mission.

Panares (middle) posing with her airport 'ambassadors'

Under her watch at ISS, Pañares also spearheaded the creation of a group of airport “ambassadors” who greeted arriving migrant workers and briefed them about their rights in Hong Kong and where to seek help if they ran into trouble.

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She also set up Hope (for Harnessing Opportunities and Potentials of Ethnic Minorities) Centre, which provides livelihood and skills training to members of various ethnic groups, including foreign domestic workers.

A separate announcement of Pañares’ passing was posted on Facebook by her Canada-based brother, Sonny Pañares.

“The rock of our family passed away this morning. Adrielle Pañares in Hongkong. We drew strength from her wisdom and loving care to us her siblings, nieces & nephew. It was so sudden & we never got the chance to say our goodbyes,” he said.


Pañares started working in Vietnamese refugee camps in the Philippines way back in 1984.

Asked during an interview to compare Vietnamese refugee camps in the Philippines and in Hong Kong, Pañares said: “What intrigued me about Hong Kong was that it had barbed wire, and detention camps and detention centers.”

In the Philippines, the Vietnamese who were in the refugee processing centers were free to roam around and interact with people from outside.


Pañares said that because of their detention, the Vietnamese boat people in Hong Kong were traumatized by the experience, but were also given opportunities while inside the camps. This made working for ISS-HK, and living and working with the refugees, particularly attractive to her. 

She said she relished “the opportunity of actually getting to meet people who fought for freedom and life.”


Connie Hui, communications and public relations manager of ISS-HK, said everyone at the NGO was deeply saddened by Pañares’ death.

Hui said ISS-HK was in touch with the Pañares’ family “to provide all necessary assistance during this difficult time of loss. Details of her funeral will be announced in due course when arrangements are made and confirmed,” she said.

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