Rise in minority criminal gangs
Driven by desperation or tempted by easy money, South Asians in Hong Kong are joining triad-linked criminal gangs. And the problem is on the rise.
Some of the gang members are asylum seekers, who by law cannot work to feed themselves; others are criminal fugitives from their own countries; but many are long-time Hong Kong residents, say a police officer, an immigration consultant and a criminal gang member.
'The gangs are well-organised and are increasing in number. The majority of people from South Asia who are involved have no other option but to do this if they want to survive in Hong Kong,' said the gang member, an asylum seeker from Pakistan who has lived in the city for five years and deals drugs.
Police play down the problem, but acknowledge such gangs are growing in number as the struggle to make ends meet gets harder for a growing South Asian underclass.
A senior police officer, who spoke on condition of not being identified, explained that those involved were from a 'real stew of different backgrounds'.
Some were asylum seekers, while others were second- or third-generation Hong Kong residents. Others were working legitimately or just holidaying on a tourist visa. The temptation to make money fast was what led most to break the law, he said.
'The ethnic gang operations happen on the periphery of organised crime here, because the triads have the same issues as everyone else when it comes to dealing with the language and culture of other ethnic communities,' the officer said.
'So it's not a question of them just rounding up these people and recruiting them all, but it is something we are keeping an eye on.'
Richard Aziz Butt, a long-time immigration consultant based in Tsim Sha Tsui, is well aware of the rise of these gangs.
'Many South Asians come to Hong Kong pretending to be asylum seekers but they have other intentions and immediately get involved in criminal activities,' said Butt, who works with the South Asian community on a daily basis.
'Some of these people have absconded from their countries because of criminal behaviour. Soon not only are they involved in drugs and prostitution, they are recruiting Hong Kong residents from Pakistan, Nepal and India because it's the best way for everyone to make quick money. But the main recruiters are triads, as they already have a tried and tested system in place.'
The Pakistani drug dealer told his own story of why he chooses to lead a life of crime. He would not give his name for his own safety and instead referred to himself as 'Raja'.
Raja sells Ice, Ecstasy and hashish in Kowloon, and makes HK$20,000 to HK$25,000 a month.
He warns there are more and more people with similar ethnic backgrounds joining organised crime. 'Pakistani, Nepalese and Indian guys are recruited regularly,' he said. 'They are paid daily wages and if they show promise they are given responsibility. Some are friends of friends, others are recruited straight off the street.'
Now in his 30s, Raja says drug-dealing is the only way for him to survive. 'I can't work legally in Hong Kong, so I have to do this,' he said. 'Others are Hong Kong residents, but they are involved because they need the money.'
Raja became a dealer two years ago after being approached by a Pakistani gang member who employed him to weigh out portions of hashish. Three or four others - usually Pakistani or Nepalese men, and often Hong Kong residents - would also work in this way with Raja, who made HK$300 a day. After he gained the trust of his gang leader, he was promoted to the job of supplier and began selling on the streets.
Police are adamant that they are doing everything in their power to reach out to the South Asian community in Hong Kong. Their latest initiative is to employ five community liaison assistants for a trial period of nine months to work in districts with big ethnic minority populations: Wan Chai, Yau Tsim, Kowloon City, Kwai Tsing and Yuen Long.
Fermi Wong Wai-fun, a founder of Unison, a minorities support group, is not impressed by the scheme. 'Until South Asians can actually join the police force in numbers these sorts of schemes are not achieving anything,' she said.
'There's still much tension between the police and people of South Asian origin living in Hong Kong. It is no surprise that some treat the police with suspicion and turn to crime.'