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Government unveils enhanced and new measures to help ethnic minorities and new arrivals

     The Government announced today (February 27) plans to enhance existing measures and introduce new initiatives to help ethnic minorities and new arrivals from the Mainland, in addition to the extensive range of support services that have been provided over the years.

     In a letter addressed to Margaret Ng, Chairman of the Legislative Council Bills Committee on the Race Discrimination Bill, the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, especially highlighted the new initiatives announced in the Financial Secretary's Budget Speech today. He also informed members of the progress of the Government’s consideration of the proposed amendments to the Race Discrimination Bill.

     In regard to support services for ethnic minorities, Mr Lam reiterated the Government’s commitment to fostering their integration into the community and to facilitating their access to public services. 

      "Specifically, the Government will establish four regional support service centres for ethnic minorities.  These centres will provide the interpretation services needed by ethnic minorities in using medical and other public services, such as Government job centres and social welfare offices.  They will also operate Chinese and English language training courses and organise other activities such as community integration programmes for them.  Some $16 million will be reserved as the operating expenses for these four centres for the coming year and $8 million to finance their setting-up costs.

      "Moreover, to enhance support for the learning and teaching of non-Chinese speaking students, notably ethnic minority students, the Government will, with effect from the 2008/09 school year, offer on a recurrent basis the existing top-up cash grant for designated primary and secondary schools to put in place school-based support measures.  We will suitably enhance the current rate of the grant (at $300,000 a year) for individual designated schools with a larger intake of non-Chinese speaking students and will also endeavour to increase the number of designated schools from the current 19 to 25 over a period of two school years.  The implementation of these measures is expected to incur an extra provision of $13 million each year," the letter said.

     In regard to support services for new arrivals from the Mainland, Mr Lam re-affirmed the Government's continued commitment to providing appropriate support services to facilitate their integration.  

      "In this connection, the Family Council will explore new initiatives and examine ways to strengthen existing measures," he said.

     Turning to proposed amendments to the Race Discrimination Bill, Mr Lam said, "After careful deliberation taking into account the views expressed by members, the Administration will amend Clause 3 of the bill to clarify that, when enacted, the ordinance will bind the Government.

     "We also appreciate the concerns raised by members over the alternative tests in Clause 4(2)(a) and (b) for determining whether or not a requirement or condition is justifiable.  To address these concerns, we are working on a proposed amendment to straighten out the provision while keeping it in line with internationally accepted principle of rationality and proportionality. 

      "We will inform the Bills Committee of the proposed wording once the draft Committee Stage Amendments are ready."

     "The above measures should clearly demonstrate the Government's commitment to the well-being of our community and our willingness to listen to members' views."

Ends/Wednesday, February 27, 2008