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Tuesday, March 22, 2016, 22:12

Govt mulls ways to curb asylum seekers


Govt mulls ways to curb asylum seekers
This picture taken on June 11, 2013 shows a refugee from Bangladesh in his room at a compound where asylum seekers from Bangladesh reside, in the Ping Che rural area of Hong Kong. (AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez)

HONG KONG - Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on Tuesday said effective short-term moves to tackle the surge in the number of asylum claimants are needed – as the government mulls how to solve the issue at different levels, from security to diplomatic.

Speaking before an Executive Council (ExCo) meeting, Leung also commented on a suggestion put forward by former security chief and fellow ExCo member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee to build a refugee camp on an outlying island in Shenzhen.

Leung said that planning and construction works would take a long time and the government did not want to wait that long.

Ip, also chairwoman of the New People’s Party, on Monday proposed to set up refugee camps for asylum seekers outside the city to address the problem of bogus asylum seekers.

She told local media the Hong Kong government should seek help from the central government for a location – possibly by renting an island in Shenzhen – to build a camp to deter false refugee claimants. This was because Hong Kong lacked sufficient land for such a camp.

Earlier, the Security Bureau mulled over four options to plug the loophole in the immigration and non-refoulement policies, including introducing pre-entry inspections at the airports of source nations and tightening the time limit on claims to prevent stalling tactics used by fake refugees. According to local television station Television Broadcasts (TVB), the bureau is going to submit its new policies for to the Legislative Council for discussion next month at the earliest.

Up to March 2, the Immigration Department said it has recorded a total of 17,200 claims – with 11,000 of them still in the backlog. Among them, 800 were filed this year. Most asylum claimants make non-refoulement protection claims as soon as they arrive at the airport.

The Security Bureau will propose an online permit application system for visitors even if they enjoy visa-free entry to Hong Kong, hoping to single out the fake refugees, TVB reported.

Ip did not seem optimistic about the pre-screening measure because she thought illegal immigrants would not provide accurate information as required.

According to the Immigration Ordinance, smuggling people into Hong Kong may incur a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment and a HK$5 million fine. The government is considering increasing penalties for snakeheads that smuggle or assist people in coming from major source nations into Hong Kong.

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