Hong Kong woman in Australian legal limbo

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 June, 2007, 12:00am

A former Hong Kong resident who has been detained in Australia for six years as an illegal immigrant says she would rather die than be returned to the mainland.

Kwok Yin-fong was charged with bribery and corruption on the mainland, the same offences for which her husband was sentenced to death. They allegedly embezzled 1.4 million yuan of company funds.

Australia cannot send Kwok back to the mainland because she would face the death penalty, but will not allow her to settle in the country because of her immigration offences.

Her family and supporters say her physical and mental health have deteriorated since she was detained in January 2001.

Kwok, 52, is one of 241 inmates in Villawood detention centre, in Sydney's western suburbs. Australia's six detention centres hold 380 illegal immigrants.

She was arrested after trying to fly from Sydney, where she was visiting her sister, to Canada via Hawaii. Hawaiian officials discovered that a warrant had been issued on the mainland for her arrest and sent her back.

Kwok has been on suicide watch several times and has cut off her hair.

She has exhausted all legal avenues, including an appeal to the High Court of Australia.

Kwok was visited this week by her son, Raymond Cheung, who lives in Canada. It was the first time he had seen his mother in three years, and he was worried about her health.

'Right now she's in a critical condition of depression and she has many health problems,' Mr Cheung, 29, told ABC Radio.

'Three years ago I came to Australia to visit her and her hair was still black, but right now it's all turned grey - everything, the wrinkles - I can't recognise her.

'I am very concerned about my mother's health situation. I think she can't take another one year, two years. That's the critical point.'

Kwok is terrified of being deported to the mainland. 'Since my father has been sentenced to the death penalty, she fears that if she goes back to China she will face the same sentence,' Mr Cheung said.

There may, however, be hope for Kwok as Australian Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews said yesterday he would consider releasing her into the community, pending a final decision on her status.

'But there will have to be conditions because there is a serious risk of her absconding,' a spokeswoman said. 'She's the subject of an Interpol red notice and there's an arrest warrant against her in China.

'She attempted to enter Australia with false documents, which in itself is a fairly serious offence. We need to try to resolve this with China.'