Stuck in the system: Immigration detention in Hong Kong

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Singapore

Publishing organisation: Kontinentalist, Immigration Detention and Vulnerable Migrants in Hong Kong Research Team

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-08-04

Language: English

Authors: Authors / The Immigration Detention and Vulnerable Migrants in Hong Kong Research Team
Code / Siti Aishah, Bianchi Dy, Chun Hui Min
Design / Amanda Teo
Editing / Gwyneth Cheng, Loh Pei Ying
Header image / CIC Detainees’ Rights Concern Group
Illustration / Griselda Gabriele


The Immigration Detention and Vulnerable Migrants in Hong Kong Research Team at The Chinese University of Hong Kong studies immigration detention in Hong Kong and aims to develop evidence-based solutions for improving the immigration detention system.

Aishah handles front-end development of stories for desktop and mobile, as well as auxiliary data viz support.

Amanda does UI/UX design, designs data visualisations, and works on client projects.

Bianchi is an urban scientist and artist trained in environmental engineering, with a passion for context-sensitive data storytelling.

Griselda is an illustrator, multimedia designer, and animator who plans and creates marketing assets and editorial illustrations.

Project description:

Every year, thousands of migrants enter Hong Kong’s immigration detention system. What exactly goes on behind the scenes isn’t clear, but repeated accounts from detainees and civil society have raised serious concerns of poor conditions within, and underscored the urgent need for the Hong Kong government to consider reforms to their immigration detention system.

This story aims to shed a light on the immigration detention system in Hong Kong. We worked with a team of researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who had dedicated much effort to collecting as much information about the system as possible.

Impact reached:

This project’s main aim was to bring attention to an overlooked topic in the region. This story was created in collaboration with our partner, the Immigration Detention and Vulnerable Migrants in Hong Kong research team, who wanted to shed light on this important issue from Hong Kong. Previously, they had consolidated all the gathered data into a single website, which, unfortunately, did not garner much attention from the general public, as it might have been too data-heavy and inaccessible for the average reader. As such, this story aimed to convert the important the data they had and into an accessible, concise story for readers. The research team also plans to use the story for future presentations and talks that they might have on the topic.

The story received 665 unique page views with an average reading time of 3 minutes and 35 seconds. It also reached 1,777 accounts, being shared 45 times and garnering 89 likes.

On Twitter, the story was shared by IDC Asia Pacific, an outlet working on issues of immigration detention, asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants.

Techniques/technologies used:

We wanted to create a story that was both immersive and interactive so that readers can easily be brought into the complex and jarring world of immigration detention. We used data visualisation programmes like Mapbox to create an interactive scrolling map which locates the detention centres, as well as bar graphs to understand the average length of detention and records of physical confrontations. We also used illustrative elements to visualise the dismal conditions at these facilities.

Context about the project:

Immigration detention in Hong Kong was an extremely sensitive topic to write about. During the process of creating the story, every detail was carefully observed, all the way down to the way individual sentences were structured. Despite the story being an issue of high urgency, our partner and the writers had to ensure that the tone didn’t come off too accusatory to avoid political repercussions.

Data for the issue was also difficult to collect. The research team did all they could to gather the information that they have today, but even so, gaps in knowledge are still apparent and were also highlighted in the story. Due to the lack of transparency, it is difficult to bring this issue to the authorities. However, with the data they’ve managed to find together with first-hand accounts from people who had gone through the system itself, it is evident that the immigration detention system treats many migrants in Hong Kong in an unfair way. Many times, these communities are at the receiving end of serious human rights violations, making it an urgent issue that the government needs to address.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

As journalists, it is important to keep an open mind and look out for groups and potential partners who are passionate and aligned with specific causes. Before the research team reached out to us, we did not know much about the topic nor this team that has been working on this issue for a long time. Even though they might not represent a large well-known organisation, it was important for us to draw on their invaluable knowledge and research to tell this story — which served to be a huge learning opportunity as well.

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