Screws to tighten on asylum abuse

Top News | Yupina Ng 6 Apr 2016

The new director of immigration says he is open to the idea of setting up a detention center for asylum seekers but adds that any such arrangement will have to be according to the law.

Erick Tsang Kwok-wai, 52, formerly the deputy director, was appointed by the State Council on the recommendation of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

He replaced Eric Chan Kwok-ki, who retired after serving in the department for 33 years.

Tsang, meeting the press at Immigration Tower in Wan Chai, said the growing number of immigrants who abuse the asylum mechanism is one of the department's biggest challenges.

Since the Unified Screening Mechanism began on March 3, 2014, the department has scrutinized more than 3,000 claims, 30 of which have been substantiated, Tsang said.

As of March 2, there were 11,160 non-refoulement claims pending screening. Non-refoulement is an international law principle of not sending a person back to a place where he or she may be persecuted.

"The government will conduct a full review of the existing system, including regulations on pre-arrival, the pending process [of the mechanism], detention and the law enforcement on refoulement," Tsang said.

Asked his views on setting up a detention center or camp, he said: "We are open to any suggestion. If we are doing the detention [center], we will act according to the law."

Tsang insisted that any decision taken will not affect genuine claimants, adding the department is trying to "pinpoint those who abuse our system."

Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai said a detention center will be costly and won't necessarily speed up the screening process.

Tsang said the department will shorten its recruitment process from nine months to six months and add 83 more positions, including immigration officers and other staff, to speed up the screening of asylum seekers.

Immigration Service Officers Association chairman Ngai Sik-shui welcomed the decision to boost manpower.

"[Tsang] is a practical person and we appreciate his style of work," Ngai said.

"Speeding up recruitment and hiring more staff will definitely ease the pressure on the front line, especially those of us who are facing a retirement tide."

Tsang joined the Immigration Department in 1987 and was promoted to deputy director in 2014.

He was regarded as a fast-rising star, having been promoted to assistant director in 2012.

He was seconded to the Security Bureau as assistant secretary from 2003 to 2006 and the government's Beijing Office from 2007 to 2010.

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