Tougher penalties on snakeheadsTop News | Yupina Ng 11 Apr 2016
The Immigration Department hopes legislation raising the maximum penalty to 14 years in jail for snakeheads of illegal immigrants from South Asian countries will be passed by July, assistant director William Fung Pak-ho said.
Under the current Immigration Ordinance, anyone who arranges for unauthorized entrants from the mainland, Vietnam or Macau faces up to 14 years in prison and a HK$5 million fine.
The department wants to stretch that shortlist by adding eight countries Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Afghanistan and Nigeria.
Currently, those eight are under the category of "other countries of places." Traffickers arranging for unauthorized entrants from any of those eight face up to seven years' jail or a HK$600,000 fine.
"Data from the past five years showed that 90 percent of the illegal immigrants were from those [eight] countries," Fung said. "If we later find that illegal immigrants from a specific country are increasing, we could issue an order and add the country to the list."
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.
A Legislative Council document showed that the department has been studying how to detain more illegal asylum seekers, following suggestions of setting up a detention camp. That suggestion "also gives rise to other challenges from land and manpower resources perspectives," the document read.
"That being said, we have commenced research into proposals to empower the Immigration Department to detain more claimants that would conform to legal and operational requirements, so as to deter them from coming to Hong Kong and delaying the removal or screening procedures."
A pre-arrival registration is planned to start within the year for visitors with a high risk of lodging non-refoulement claims.
The Legco will discuss the proposal tomorrow.