The Immigration Department has stepped up self-defence training for its frontline officers after a drastic rise in assaults by travellers at checkpoints.
The department recorded eight cases of officers being assaulted at different ports in the first half of this year, compared with three cases recorded in the whole of 2010.
Five officers were injured in April by an Australian Hong Kong resident after a dispute over the inspection of his ID card at the airport.
Law Chun-nam, commandant of the Immigration Service Institute of Training and Development, said the number of visitors had increased over the past few years in some ports and some people had wrongly assumed that they no longer had to queue at the border.
'Some visitors think they can go straight through the control point. But when they arrive, they need to queue up. They find it unsatisfactory and naturally vent their anger on us,' he said.
Other incidents occurred when officers were assaulted after attempting to question visitors that they thought looked suspicious. Visitors denied entry had also attacked officers, Law said.
'In some cases, visitors standing in a long queue cursed our officers. They then returned and assaulted the officers at the back even after they had walked past the counter,' he said.
Offenders were either fined or jailed.
Law said there was no breakdown on the nationalities of the travellers involved, or whether most of the abuse occurred at cross-border checkpoints.
He said training had been enhanced in the areas of communication and self-defence.
William Lee Hok-lim, chairman of the Immigration Service Officers Association, urged the government to increase the number of officers at the border to help ease the tension caused by rising visitor numbers.
He said that not all visitors went through immigration within their service pledge of 30 minutes. The figure was 96 per cent at the moment.
'This not only creates inconvenience for visitors, but also brings potential danger for officers,' he said.
Meanwhile, the institute was providing a new three-week training course for officers after the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre returned from the Correctional Service Department to the Immigration Department last year.
The centre is used for keeping immigration detainees awaiting repatriation or deportation, which was quite different from the normal service provided by the immigration department.
Law said the training included crowd control, anti-riot strategies and skills on managing a detention centre. So far, some 200 officers had received the training.
was the number of applicants for posts as immigration officers this year. Two years ago, the figure was 12,700