Sharp drop in illegal immigrantsTop News | Stella Wong May 18, 2017
Lai was speaking at the Hong Kong airport before leaving for Kunming for a four-day meeting with officials from the Yunnan Border Defence Bureau and the Yunnan Public Security Bureau on combating the smuggling of non- Chinese illegal immigrants, and to visit several border control points.
"We notice that most of the non- ethnic-Chinese immigrants who entered Hong Kong illegally are from Vietnam," Lai said.
Lai said Hong Kong and the Ministry of Public Security reached consensus to combat illegal immigrants in February last year.
His trip to Yunnan is a follow-up action on the cooperation, since authorities in Guangxi and Yunnan have detected many illegal immigrants.
"We hope that we will continue to have this kind of action," he said.
From a monthly average of 318 illegal immigrants arrested or surrendered to authorities in Hong Kong in 2015, the number dropped to a monthly average of 74 in the first four months this year, he said.
Mainland authorities busted 260 smuggling gangs and arrested more than 3,000 people who attempted to reach Hong Kong illegally.
The number of asylum seekers for non-refoulement protection dropped to an average of 196 from January to April this year, compared to more than 400 in 2015. The number of non- refoulement claims awaiting screening in Hong Kong has dropped 20 percent from the peak of 11,000 to 8,740.
After Yunnan, Lai heads to Beijing on Sunday for meetings with officials of the Ministry of Public Security, including the heads of the Narcotics Control Department and the Border Control Bureau.
Human Rights Monitor director Lau Yuk-kai said: "It is hard to identify asylum seekers among illegal immigrants outside the border. But if asylum seekers reach the border control point, the authorities should give access to proper screening procedure for their application."
Justice Centre Hong Kong research and policy officer Annie Li Man said: "Some asylum seekers may be brought by smugglers to the mainland and enter Hong Kong without going through proper channels. We are not opposing the government measures, but it has to ensure that asylum seekers would have access to the screening system."
From January 23 this year, Indian nationals need to register online before enjoying a 14-day visa-free visit to Hong Kong, in a move to stop the flood of bogus refugees.