Number of immigrants smuggled from Shenzhen to Hong Kong soars

Hundreds of illegal immigrants, mostly from Bangladesh and Pakistan, have poured into HK over past year using border city as staging ground

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 August, 2014, 10:59pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 3:02pm

A large-scale people-smuggling operation that uses Shenzhen as a staging post has seen hundreds of illegal immigrants enter Hong Kong by boat in the past year, the Sunday Morning Post has learned.

The migrants, most of them from Bangladesh or Pakistan, fly into cities across mainland China and head to Shenzhen, where they pay middlemen HK$10,000 to HK$12,000 to take them to Hong Kong by high-speed sampan, according to a number of migrants and people with a knowledge of the racket.

The Shenzhen link emerged as new figures obtained by the Post reveal a 50 per cent year-on-year rise in the number of non-ethnic-Chinese illegal immigrants arrested in Hong Kong. The official police figures show the number rose from 291 in the first half of last year to 447 in the same period this year.

"This summer has seen a spike. It has been particularly busy," said a police source, adding that the authorities were "very confident" they were catching all migrants after they landed on the west and south coasts of Lantau during the night.

Each boat typically carries 10 to 12 people, and usually lands near Tai O or Fan Lau, allowing them to stay in mainland waters for most of the journey, the source said.

It is not clear how many of the illegal immigrants avoid arrest but those picked up are taken to a local police station, before being passed to an immigration centre in Tuen Mun where asylum claims are assessed. Those without valid grounds to seek asylum are deported.

One Pakistani asylum seeker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had used lodgings in Shenzhen three times in the past decade to enter Hong Kong.

The police public relations bureau said they had noted an increase in illegal immigration in the first half of this year.

Kamal, a Bangladeshi living in Hong Kong, said the use of Shenzhen as a staging post for illegal entry to Hong Kong had grown in popularity in the past decade as visa restrictions for South Asians were tightened. Visa-free access for Bangladeshi nationals was withdrawn in 2006.

"Please stop them coming. It's ridiculous and horrible," said Kamal, who has seen a number of compatriots trapped in seemingly endless cycles of incarceration after their arrival in Hong Kong.

The surge in migrants from South Asia is just the latest development in Hong Kong's long history of illegal immigration.

After the end of the civil war on the mainland in 1949, an estimated million people poured across the border, often using boats or even swimming. Although illegal, many were allowed to stay to help ease labour shortages.

Hong Kong again became a prime destination after the Vietnam war, with nearly 200,000 "boatpeople" entering the city between 1975 and 2000. About two-thirds were eventually resettled in other countries, while the final third were repatriated.