Police detained eight South Asian illegal immigrants off Sai Kung yesterday, the first arrests since a law came into force barring asylum seekers from working in the city while waiting for cases to be processed.
Marine officers picked up the eight Pakistani men, aged between 24 and 40, on an isolated island near Shek Ngau Chau (island). Then they raced after the speedboat that had dumped the immigrants there, nabbing a 26-year-old mainland snakehead surnamed Wei, off Nam She Wan beach, at about 3am yesterday. The seven-metre boat had sailed from Huizhou to Hong Kong.
'We believe the snakehead tried to escape after spotting the police. So, he left the illegal immigrants there before taking off,' Canal Leung Chung-ting, acting superintendent of the small boat division, said.
Each illegal immigrant paid between 4,500 yuan (HK$5,100) and 5,500 yuan to come to the city, while the snakehead told officers he made 3,000 yuan from the trip.
'This is the first arrest of South Asian immigrants after the new law ... became effective two weeks ago,' Leung said.
The eight men claimed they came to seek political asylum, he said. 'But we do not rule out the possibility that they just want to find work in Hong Kong... Initial investigation showed the illegal immigrants do not know about the new law.'
Leung yesterday appealed to the South Asian community in Hong Kong to inform friends and relatives outside the city about the new law.
Police were considering charging Wei with endangering others' safety at sea, as no safety equipment was installed on the overloaded boat.
Between January and September this year, 1,019 non-Chinese immigrants were arrested, compared with 860 in the same period last year.
A count ruled in March that illegal immigrants who stayed in the city after making torture claims could legally take jobs. Police said the ruling sparked a surge of illegal immigrants, mostly from South Asia.
The government introduced the legal amendment, which became effective this month, to close the loophole and curb human smuggling by banning asylum seekers from working or doing business in the city.