Mainland 'tourists' arrested over illegal graveyard shifts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 12:00am

Twenty-seven mainland visitors who allegedly worked illegally tidying graves in a Fanling cemetery were arrested yesterday in an undercover operation by police and immigration officers.

The 13 men and 14 women, aged between 25 and 77, demanded as little as $5 to cut grass or paint and clean gravestones in Wo Hop Shek Cemetery, according to Chief Immigration Officer Douglas Chan Kwok-lun. Local workers charge at least $20.

Surveillance conducted last week showed the mainlanders, equipped with knives, shovels, brooms and cans of paint, arrived at the cemetery at 7am and stayed until 5pm or 6pm.

'They claimed they charged between $5 and $20. It is understood each could earn about $100 a day during weekdays,' Mr Chan said. 'Due to the economic downturn, some local workers need such jobs to make a living, but the mainlanders have taken over their jobs.'

The alleged offences took place in the run-up to Thursday's Chung Yeung festival, when Hong Kong people visit cemeteries to mourn their ancestors.

A spokesman for the Immigration Department said the operation was mounted when a local labourer complained about the lack of jobs after the mainlanders arrived. Previously, there were more than 20 workers in the cemetery.

The 27 mainlanders, who arrived as tourists, were not allowed to work in the SAR.

About 30 undercover police and immigration officers posing as grave-sweepers and carrying flowers were deployed at 10.30am yesterday. An extra 60 uniformed policemen blocked all exits.

The mainlanders were arrested for breaching their condition of stay after they approached the undercover officers and offered work in exchange for money, according to Mr Chan.

They were still being held last night as inquiries continued.