Mothers kissed their children goodbye, couples hugged each other and a grandmother broke down in tears as scores of abode seekers made last-minute returns to the mainland before the grace period expired last night. Those defying the court order to go back camped outside the Legislative Council, vowing to fight on for residency. But many had grown tired of the struggle and dashed to the Immigration Department office at the Central Government Pier in Sheung Wan to get papers exempting them from punishment on the mainland. 'It's really difficult to leave. My parents are in their 70s. This could be the last time for me to see them,' said Lai Jingxiu, who came to Hong Kong from Jingjiang, Fujian, last year. 'I started to apply for a one-way permit to come to Hong Kong when I was 17. I have been waiting and waiting until now I'm 50. I will go back and apply again. But I don't know how long it will take and if my parents have that much time left.' Mr Lai said he obtained the exemption paper to ease his parents' fears. 'They were afraid that the Government would punish me if I stayed behind.' Five-year-old Zheng Ziyu had little idea where he and his grandmother were heading to. The boy has lived in Hong Kong all his life. But his grandmother, breaking down in tears, said she had to take the boy to the mainland with her. 'His parents have died. I'm his only family member in Hong Kong. But the Government won't allow me to stay. I can't leave him alone.' The mother of five-year-old Zhang Tutu said she was worried her son would be unable to find a school if he went to the mainland. Ms Zhang and her husband smuggled the boy in from Jingzhou, Fujian, in 1999 because they could not endure the long wait for him to arrive legally. 'Now I can only let my sister take care of Tutu. But I'm worried if he can find schools in China. He can't even speak Putonghua,' she said. Some claimants said they did not know yesterday was the last day for them to return to the mainland. One mother had to leave her two sons in a hurry after she was told that the grace period would end at midnight. 'My husband is a fisherman and he's at sea. I've just been told that I have to go today or face punishment. I can't even tell him that I'm leaving,' she sobbed. Outside the Legislative Council, many claimants camped out with covers, sheets, food and water. Wong Lai-yau, 55, a father of three sons aged from 18 to 28, and the last abode seeker to apply for penalty exemption documents yesterday, said: 'I will crush my head against a tree outside the Central Government Office if they come to arrest my sons.' Chan Kam-shing, 55, decided to stay in the SAR after he arrived in Sheung Shui yesterday afternoon on his way back to the mainland. 'Where can I go? My parents, my wife and my children are all here,' he said. Many of the abode seekers said they would stay until they were removed by police or they obtained the right to remain.