Attempts to stem flow of fake asylum seekers need sensitivity

The Indian consulate says immigration authorities, as they try to catch those aiming to live and work in Hong Kong illegally, have been showing an unwarranted and unfriendly face to many Indian travellers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 12:34am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 12:34am

More than 500,000 Indians visit Hong Kong each year for business or leisure. That may pale against figures for mainland visitors. But India is a growth market of more than a billion increasingly prosperous people to whom Hong Kong is an easily reached foreign destination. It has rightly been identified by the Tourism Board as a major focus of its promotion of the city to Asian markets. At the same time, according to the Indian consulate, our immigration authorities have been showing an unfriendly face to many Indian travellers, including women and children, by detaining them for lengthy questioning and invasive body searches. They have a good reason – to stem the flow of fake asylum seekers trying to get around immigration and labour controls to live and work illegally here in jobs organised by black-market labour rackets.

From March 2014 to the end of 2015, an average of 134 Indian nationals lodged asylum claims every month – a 13-fold increase over the monthly average of 10 in 2013. Last January, they remained the second biggest group after Vietnamese. As a result, the government has singled out Indians along with Indonesians for a proposed online permit application system before they can board a plane for Hong Kong. That could help reduce reliance on a procedure under which, says Karun Bansal from the Indian consulate, people with valid documents, tickets and cash have felt humiliated and traumatised by their treatment.

A backlog of nearly 11,000 refugee applications remains to be screened. Some 80 per cent of them are from South or Southeast Asian countries. If we want more tourists from the Asian region we need to acknowledge that the concerns raised by the consulate are not unreasonable. But we still need to stop fake asylum seekers from wherever they come. Ultimately, a review of the refugee regime may also contribute to a solution. It should be fast-tracked. Meanwhile, immigration officers must undertake a difficult task as professionally and sensitively as possible.