Border clamp cuts illegal migrant flow

Local | Phoebe Ng 1 Mar 2017

The number of non-Chinese illegal immigrants crossing the Hong Kong- Guangdong border plummeted by 65 percent last year, figures released by the Security Bureau show.

On average, 110 migrants were caught per month in the second half of 2016, compared with 320 for 2015.

Only 3,838 applied for non- refoulement protection, a 38 percent dip.

"It is an encouraging result which shows the effectiveness of our operations," said Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok before a closed-door working group meeting with the Ministry of Public Security.

More than 40,000 non-Chinese illegal immigrants had also been arrested by the mainland force since special joint operations were launched in mid- February last year.

Mainland agents also smashed 21 human smuggling rings, involving 3,200 suspects in 260 attempted smuggling cases. The downward trend can be attributed to tougher penalties for snakeheads since last May, Lai said.

However, both Hong Kong and mainland authorities vowed to step up efforts in curbing smuggling attempts, especially those by the gangs.

"Syndicates might change tactics, including changes of smuggling routes and modes of operation," Lai said, adding both forces must work closely to bring down smuggling rings.

They are planning to increase interception, investigation, intelligence exchange and law enforcement cooperation. The Hong Kong government is also to review strategy in handling non-refoulement claims, mostly made by asylum seekers. Non-refoulement is an international law principle of not sending a person back to a place where he or she may be persecuted.

Screening procedures are also going to be improved by amending the Immigration Ordinance. At the moment, visitors from certain high-risk areas need to fill in online pre-arrival registration to get a visa-free stay in Hong Kong.

The meeting - co-chaired by Lai and the director general of the Border Control Department of the Ministry of Public Security, Chen Dingwu - summed up cross-border work over past year and discussed future plans.

Apprehensions are deemed an indicator of overall flow: the more people caught, the more that are believed to be getting through. The flow seems to have picked up again as spring approaches. Authorities arrested at least 1,190 Southeast Asian illegal immigrants since February 1.

The maximum penalty for those helping unauthorized people to enter Hong Kong is 14 years' imprisonment and a HK$5 million fine.

"Unauthorized entrants" cover those from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Sri Lanka. It previously covered only those from the mainland, Vietnam or Macau before a law amendment.

The first prosecution related to the new law is now being heard in the District Court. "It is a serious offense to arrange or assist unauthorized entrants to enter Hong Kong," Lai said.

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