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Tuesday, April 5, 2016, 09:54

New immigration chief to hire staff amid influx of refugees


New immigration chief to hire staff amid influx of refugees
The Chief Executive (right) poses with the new Director of Immigration Erick Tsang Kwok-wai after the swearing-in ceremony. (Photo / Hong Kong Government)

HONG KONG - The recruitment of dozens of frontline immigration officers will be a top priority of Hong Kong’s incoming immigration chief as the city grapples with a rising tide of economic migrants posing as refugees.

Newly appointed Director of Immigration Erick Tsang Kwok-wai told reporters on Tuesday - his first day in the new role - that 83 officers would be hired this year. This is to deal with an influx of refugee claimants as the government seeks to overhaul existing policies and plug loopholes exploited by bogus refugees.

Tsang said hiring would be sped up from the usual nine months to six to ease growing pressures on frontline workers.

Tsang, 52, joined the Immigration Department as an assistant immigration officer in April 1987. He became assistant director of immigration in 2012 and deputy director of immigration in 2014.

His agenda, as head of his department, has been largely set by the fact the city is struggling with a perceived rise in illegal immigration - under the guise of non-refoulement and refugee claims.

New immigration chief to hire staff amid influx of refugees
New Director of Immigration Erick Tsang Kwok-wai meets the press at the Immigration Tower in Wan Chai, on April 5. (Roy Liu / China Daily)

The Yuen Long District Council has also advocated for a revamp of the city’s refugee claimant regime, while calling for a greater police presence as concerns increase over crimes allegedly perpetrated by asylum seekers.

On Tuesday, Yuen Long District Council meeting concluded the current pace of refugee vetting is too slow as a backlog of cases grows. District Councilor Cham Ka-hung noted a new refugee regime is needed as the current arrangement is open to abuse.

Up until March 2, the Immigration Department has recorded a total of 17,200 claims, some 11,000 of which are still in the backlog and 800 filed this year. A department spokeswoman said most applicants apply for non-refoulement claims as soon as they land in the SAR.

Police have downplayed concerns about a series of alleged knife attacks involving South Asian assailants, noting only six out of 31 robberies recorded in Yuen Long in the last 11 months of 2015 were committed by non-Chinese suspects.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying signaled the administration’s intention to overhaul its refugee policies in his latest Policy Address, while Executive Councilor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee has proposed setting up a new detention camp -- more than a decade after the city’s camps for Vietnamese refugees closed in 2000 after a quarter century of operations and more than 150,000 refugees processed.

The Immigration Department is also seeking to enhance cooperation with foreign consulates to crack down on crimes and accelerate repatriation of those denied stay.

Currently claimants are largely left to their own devices but are barred from gainful employment forcing them to live off a HK$1,500 monthly stipend.

The difficulty of having to remain while their cases are reviewed coupled with a lack of means for self-sufficiency has pushed some of them into illegal work and in some cases criminal pursuits.

Local news reports have regularly drawn close links between so-called refugee claimants working as alleged drug dealers in districts with bars.

Meanwhile, four illegal Vietnamese immigrants and a compatriot working illegally were jailed for 15 months by the Sha Tin Magistrates’ Court last week.

Immigration officers raided 11 target locations including restaurants and tailor shops in Kowloon Bay, Mong Kok, Sham Shui Po, Tsim Sha Tsui, Yuen Long and Tuen Mun. One male and four female illegal workers aged 22 to 44 were arrested.

The man was found to be working illegally while having his refugee status vetted. Forged Hong Kong identity cards were found on the four women.

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