We must close the door on illegal immigrants

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 October, 2009, 12:00am

The Hong Kong government has a long record of keeping out undesirable people. Immigration officers are trained to spot economic migrants; special teams turn back dozens each day. Others not to the mainland's liking are barred or, as has happened in some cases, spirited across the border. More is the mystery, then, why a fishing village in the New Territories a 20-minute boat ride from Shenzhen is seemingly an open door for illegal comers and goers.

Illegal immigrants boast of how easy it is to slip in and out of Hong Kong through Lau Fau Shan. They are charged HK$4,000 by fishing boat operators for a one-way trip. Avoiding detection is as easy as slipping on fishermen's clothes. Immigration checks on both sides of the border are got around with fake passports and claims that travel documents have been lost.

Authorities appear to be oblivious to the problem.

The village's wet market is among seven for which mainland people involved in the fishing industry can obtain temporary work permits. But while the other six are controlled by the Immigration Department, police are in charge of such matters in Lau Fau Shan. Officials have been unable to explain the anomaly. Checking the documentation of all Chinese in the area would be time-consuming and possibly impractical. It is unclear why police have failed to notice the steady stream of South Asian and African illegal immigrants moving in and out of the village.

There is no question, however, about how dangerous a situation has been created. Hong Kong's economic circumstances make it a beacon for smugglers, opportunists and the jobless. It also attracts criminals. Given the growing importance of China, it is also conceivable that our city could become a target for terrorists.

An upsurge in people-smuggling from the mainland is testing police resources. Two boatloads of illegal immigrants have been caught in the past month. The difficulty of policing surrounding waters makes it crucial to ensure potential land entry points are controlled. Lau Fau Shan has to be a priority.