Screening policy review to stop abuse by torture claimants

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 March, 2008, 12:00am

The screening mechanism for torture claimants will be reviewed to speed up the assessment process in light of the number of system abusers, an immigration official has said.

Assistant director for enforcement and litigation Eric Chan Kwok-ki said that in the past four years not one of the claims of 250 claimants alleging they had been tortured had been substantiated.

He said more asylum seekers were taking advantage of international treaties to extend their stay.

But Annie Lin, of the Society for Community Organisation, said most asylum seekers knew little about the Convention Against Torture, and initially sought help from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

By the time they realised they could make a claim in relation to torture, most had already overstayed and faced the risk of being detained by the Immigration Department.

The number of torture claimants - many from South Asian and African countries - tripled last year to 1,584, nearly half of whom were illegal entrants. In January this year, 235 people filed applications, 185 per cent more than for January last year.

Mr Chan said 93 per cent of claimants applied after being in the city for an average of 17 months. Most made their first claims to the UNHCR and turned to the Convention Against Torture after being rejected.

'Many lodged claims only when they were arrested for breaching their conditions of stay in Hong Kong and were notified of removal,' he said. 'It reveals that the mechanism is being abused as they seek to stay longer for job opportunities.'

The Court of Final Appeal ruled in June 2004 that people who land in Hong Kong claiming they are fleeing torture must have their claims individually assessed by the government. No torture claimants can be repatriated to their countries of origin while their claims are being processed.

The assistant director said 80 officers were employed to screen claimants, taking several months to more than a year to complete assessments. Thirteen new posts, costing HK$6.9 million, would be created to handle appeals and judicial review applications lodged by torture claimants.

'The department will review the mechanism to step up measures quickening the pace of assessments,' he said.

One-way traffic

The number of South Asian and African illegal entrants arrested in January this year, marking a 260 per cent increase from 46 last year: 166