Tai Tam prison to reopen for asylum seekers

Local | Mandy Zheng 20 Jan 2021

Up to 160 asylum seekers will soon be detained at the newly renovated Tai Tam Gap Correctional Institution, Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said.

On his blog yesterday, Lee wrote that the Chai Wan institution, which has been closed since 2018, will join the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre in Tuen Mun as facilities for non-refoulement protection claimants, with a quota of 500 inmates.

While Hong Kong does not offer asylum, it has a non-refoulement policy preventing the returning of refugees to their country of origin if they are believed to be under threat of torture or other forms of persecution there.

All non-refoulement claimants, successful or not, are regarded as illegal immigrants in the SAR. If one's claim is rejected, they may be sent to detention facilities pending repatriation or appeal if authorities deem them a security or flight risk.

The number of such claims handled by the Immigration Department had dropped from its peak of 11,000 to several hundred, Lee said.

Another 1,700 people were awaiting appeal results, down from over 6,500 at its peak.

The government spent about HK$950 million in 2019/2020 on the refugee problem "that has plagued us for years," he said.

"Some claimants were arrested for robbery, wounding and drug trafficking, which severely damaged social security and sparked concern from residents," he said.

Some 800 foreigners were arrested for criminal offenses between January and November last year while on bail, most of whom were asylum seekers.

The government last month submitted an immigration amendment bill to the Legislative Council, which sought to allow immigration officers to carry arms at detention facilities, and specify the language used by a claimant, which could make it harder for one to get a translator. The amendment's bills committee will have its first meeting today.

Lee said the bill aims to prevent a claimant from dragging on their case to avoid repatriation, speed up processing and offering a clearer legal framework for law enforcement.

As of last April, over 17,000 non-refoulement claims have been processed, of which 179 claims, or 1 percent, were substantiated.

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