Nearly all mainland children smuggled into the territory this year have been granted temporary permission to stay, it emerged yesterday. But critics said the decisions encouraged illegal immigration. Official figures showed 1,244 of the 1,367 child illegal immigrants who arrived between January and March turned themselves in to the authorities. The others were arrested. The number was a significant increase on the 540 youngsters surrendered to the authorities during the whole of last year. The children's parents usually appeal against repatriation on humanitarian grounds and are issued with papers allowing them to remain legally for prescribed periods, which can be extended. The papers are popularly called walk-free permits. Last year, 65 mainlanders who arrived illegally appealed against deportation and were granted the right of abode in Hong Kong. Most families believe they will be able to stay if their papers are extended beyond June 30. New Migrants Mutual Aid Society spokesman Sze Lai-shan said: 'The system is easily open to abuse. 'Rumours run rampant in China that once they can set foot on Hong Kong soil, they will be granted the walk-free permit.' Principal immigration officer Leung Ping-kwan said extra staff would be deployed to speed up deportation. He added: 'No one can abuse the appeal system. All IIs will be sent back in two months. There is no amnesty.' He was supervising the deportation of 84 mainlanders to Shenzhen at the Man Kam To checkpoint yesterday. The parents of the 18 children, deported to a custody centre in western Shenzhen, said they planned to smuggle the youngsters back to Hong Kong. The parents, who paid $300 to the mainland authorities for each child's release, said their children would be left to wander the streets in China if they were not brought to Hong Kong. A mainland mother, Mrs Mok, who recently arrived in Hong Kong illegally after being sent back last year, said mainland officers treated immigrants brutally once they were repatriated. Mrs Mok, from Haifeng, who has entered Hong Kong illegally three times, said: 'They charged me $5,000 for sending me back to Haifeng. You will be locked in jail for as long as they like if you cannot pay.' Shenzhen Public Security Bureau dismissed the claims. But it said those repatriated were detained for one or two days for questioning by officers. The Security Branch in Hong Kong said a radio announcement in Mandarin was being prepared to reinforce the no-amnesty message.