People-smuggling syndicates are using more indirect routes than before and recruiting couriers to transport illegal migrants from the mainland through Hong Kong, investigators say.
This has emerged after a joint operation between Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shenzhen enforcers that smashed a cross-border gang dealing in illegal migrants using fake passports.
Officers say the migrants are sent by circuitous routes through the Pacific and the Middle East, changing passports on the way, before reaching their destinations. "They fly [from Hong Kong] to Fiji, Vanuatu, the Middle East, Russia or Turkey, then change their travel documents before going to their destinations," the Hong Kong Immigration Department's assistant director in enforcement and torture claim assessment, William Fung Pak-ho, said yesterday. He said Australia, Spain, Brazil and Argentina were popular destinations.
The department arrested 15 people in the eight-day Operation Bowstring that started on March 29. One was an illegal migrant from the mainland. The rest, including three core syndicate members, were from Hong Kong. The mastermind, a mainlander, was arrested by mainland officials with 12 other members of the syndicate. Officers also seized fake travel documents, including forged Hong Kong and Malaysian passports, boarding passes, mobile phones and SIM cards.
Fung said the migrants usually used their own travel documents when they passed through Hong Kong, then changed to fake documents at transit points. Couriers taught the migrants their cover stories and itineraries.
The gang had been operating since 2011 and was thought to have pocketed 8.5 million yuan (HK$10.52 million) helping up to 50 illegal migrants, mostly from Fujian province. Each paid 200,000 yuan to the syndicate.