Two members of a Hong Kong hockey team arrested over alleged Indian asylum scam

Seven people in group invited to play a game overstayed and lodged claims to remain in the city – but activists say it’s another example of the government’s negative targeting

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 February, 2016, 12:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 February, 2016, 12:01am

Two members of a Hong Kong hockey team were arrested for ­allegedly helping seven Indians to overstay in the city and file non-refoulement claims.

The two had invited a 20-member Indian hockey team to Hong Kong in October last year. But after they were allowed in, seven of them, who did not join any hockey activities here, overstayed and lodged asylum claims.

Activists claim it is the latest example of the government stepping up action against asylum seekers.

Non-refoulement prohibits the return of people to countries where they face persecution.

While the incident – if pre­meditated to break the law – was handled well by enforcement officers, human rights advocates also accused the government of negatively labelling asylum seekers and building a false idea that their numbers were growing out of control.

The news comes as Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is in India to promote stronger ties.

The government recently announced plans to tighten border controls, targeting Indians and other nationals from countries considered sources of a rising number of illegal immigrants.

“The government is clearly on a campaign to link these types of incidents with the refugee issue,” said human rights lawyer Mark Daly. “There is not a large number coming here. The backlog has been a creation of the Hong Kong government not doing their job properly for the past 10 to 15 years. Now they are blaming the backlog on the asylum seekers, and they are trying to exaggerate the problem.”

The Immigration Department said more arrests could be made after investigations showed that seven team members of an Indian hockey team invited over to play a match “had not been involved in any hockey activities during their stay”.

READ MORE: Hong Kong government investigates organised scam providing transport and fake papers for Indians to claim asylum

The two arrested Hong­kongers are of Indian descent, one a convenor and the other the manager of the local hockey club that invited the Indian team. The department said it intended to ­arrest the seven overstayers, who are aged 21 to 31.

Mohan Chugani, president of the Indian Association Hong Kong, queried why Indians were targeted. “It’s a particularly insensitive time for the government to highlight this issue, especially as [Leung] is visiting India,” said Chugani. “Other countries also have visa-free access to Hong Kong. Some of their citizens also abuse the system ... why target only Indians?”

READ MORE: Refugee screening system still slow and opaque, critics say

Tony Read, justice advocate from the Vine Community Services Centre, said that the NGO sector had noticed the government’s rhetoric had been fuelling negative press coverage on asylum seekers.

“Their rights must be upheld regardless of any activities that are carried out by law enforcement against those who are working illegally or carrying out crimes,” he added.