Chinese embassies help Hong Kong residents flee to Syria

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 July, 2006, 12:00am

Hong Kong residents fled to Syria from missile-torn Beirut with the help of Chinese embassies on both sides of the border.

Chinese authorities made arrangements with Syria to allow visa-free access to mainland Chinese and Hong Kong people entering at the border, an official at the Chinese embassy in Beirut said.

The official, who gave his name as Mr Chi, said a family of seven Hong Kong people who contacted the embassy had already left Beirut, while another four residents were waiting to leave yesterday.

On Saturday three members of the family were taken by hired car from the embassy to the Syrian border, followed by the remaining four yesterday morning.

They were met by staff from the Chinese embassy in Syria and driven to Damascus, the official said.

The Chinese embassy in Beirut is advising people to leave Lebanon as soon as possible. Hong Kong Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong said the embassy was not evacuating people, but helping those who asked for assistance to leave the country.

Mr Chi said: 'The Chinese embassy in Damascus will help them to return to Hong Kong if that is what they want.

'We rented a car and sent them to the border. Then we contacted the Chinese embassy and they sent someone to the border to retrieve them. The border is only about 11/2 hours away,' Mr Chi said. So far, 93 Chinese nationals had left the country with embassy assistance.

He said the embassy continued to receive calls from Chinese people, who were in Lebanon either on business trips or on holiday, from all over the city. 'We cannot get them together, so we give them advice that they should leave Lebanon as soon as possible.

'We also communicated with the Syrian side for facilities for Chinese people so that when they come to the Syrian border, they don't need a visa.'

He said the Chinese embassy so far had suffered no bomb damage, although there had been heavy bombing nearby.

'We are still open, but if it gets very bad, we will close,' he said.

Anyone from Hong Kong needing assistance to leave the country can contact the Immigration Department's hotline on 1868 or the Chinese embassy.

Of those Hong Kong people who have already left Lebanon, security chief Mr Lee said: 'They will make their own decision. Maybe they could come back or maybe they would continue their journey. If they need help they can contact us.'

Hongkong Post yesterday announced that all postal services to Lebanon, except Speedpost services which may be subject to delays, would be suspended with immediate effect.