120 asylum seekers detained in HK in mid-July

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 July, 2006, 12:00am

Updated at 5.25pm:
One hundred and twenty asylum seekers were detained in Hong Kong in mid-July - with some of them being held in custody for criminal offences, officials revealed on Monday.

As of mid-July, 60 per cent of the 120 were detained for 'overstaying', Deputy-Secretary for Security Grace Lui Kit-yuk said.

The rest were detained for committing criminal offences in Hong Kong. This included theft and assaulting police, explained Ms Lui, who was speaking at a meeting on the asylum issue in the Legislative Council on Monday.

According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 1,800 asylum seekers in Hong Kong - with about 160 new arrivals a month. Only about 11 per cent are recognised as refugees.

Ms Lui said authorities had to put repatriation of some detainees on hold as they were still applying for refugee status in the territory.

The issue has raised concerns from legislators and the community in Hong Kong. The number of applications for refugee status has surged from 30 to 50 a month in recent years to 200 last month.

Earlier this month, forty asylum seekers held a hunger strike at a Tuen Mun detention centre in protest of their continuing imprisonment.

Some legislators and human rights groups have called for a policy of granting temporary visas to asylum seekers and torture claimants.

At the same time, the Immigration Department has said it may consider scrapping visa-free entry for citizens of some countries and speeding up the processing of torture claimants. The idea is to reduce the growing number of asylum seekers.