Filipina “harmed” by family for being a Muslim gets another legal shot to seek refuge in HK

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The High Court in Admiralty

A Filipina was given another chance to fight for her plea to stay in Hong Kong and not be deported back to the Philippines amid fears that she may face harm from her family for converting to Islam and from her creditor for unpaid loans.

The Court of First Instance gave Marichi Cortez Guzman more time to appeal the 2017 decision of the Torture Claims Board which barred her from challenging an immigration ruling disallowing her continued residence in Hong Kong.

In a decision dated Dec.9, 2019 and was made public recently, Deputy High Court Judge Bruno Chan ruled that Guzman must be given more time to file her leave application and apply for judicial review.

Guzman filed a non-refoulement claim on June 2, 2015, saying she cannot return to the Philippines because her family may hurt and even kill her for deciding to become a Muslim. The native from Abra converted to Islam in Hong Kong in August 2014 while working as a domestic helper.

Guzman, a Christian, chose to become a Muslim in 2013 after working in Singapore in 2011 where she met Muslim friends. When she returned to the Philippines in 2013, she “was subsequently beaten by her brothers while her parents would lock her inside the house refusing to allow her to go out as their Christian neighbours were all appalled by her behavior,” the ruling recounted.

She opted to work as a domestic helper in Hong Kong to supposedly escape from her family. She was able to process her employment requirements and leave for Hong Kong in April 2014 through a loan she secured from a money-lender.

Guzman promised to replay the loan through monthly installments, but she lost her job in December 2014 after she was arrested for theft. She was sent to prison and was released in May 2015.

Saying her creditor threatened to also have her killed when she returned to the Philippines aside from the fact that her family may also hurt her, De Guzman filed for a non-refoulement claim at the Torture Claims Board on June 2, 2015.

The immigration director found no merit in her application, however, saying in a decision dated June 19, 2015 that her problems are personal and filial in nature and are not linked to any condition or situation which would warrant the involvement and protection of the state or police.

Guzman tried to challenge the decision, but her notice of appeal was only received by the Board after more than a year, on July 6, 2016. A notice of appeals must be filed within 14 days after a decision has been issued and subsequently sent to the applicant.

Guzman argued that she sent her notice of appeal on June 2015 and she has documentary evidence that she had it mailed. What prevents her from showing it to them is the fact that she was then currently detained at Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre.

The Board rejected her application for an appeal on Jan.25,2017 as they found no valid justification for her delayed filing.

On May 21, 2018, Guzman filed for a leave to apply for a judicial review of the Board’s decision  issued in January 2017. She argued that the Board “erred in failing to apply high standards of fairness in determining her claim and in failing to deliver its decision to her within reasonable period of time thereby causing prejudice to her.” She also raised doubts on the fairness of the adjudicator.

Under the rules, the said notice of leave should have been filed on April 2017 or within the allowable period of three months.

Judge Chan found merit in Guzman’s petition, however and said that the board may not have been able to judiciously take into account the grounds of her appeal.