Easing travel rules could see the situation worsen, police warn The number of mainland beggars coming to Hong Kong has increased significantly and the situation could worsen as more visitors arrive, police warned last night. In the first two months of this year, police arrested 90 beggars from the mainland. The figure is almost a third of the 290 people arrested for begging last year. Just over 100 mainland beggars were arrested last year. 'The reason for the increase is the rising number of visitors coming to Hong Kong,' Chief Inspector Chu Hon-keung said. 'In 1997, there were only about 1.5 million mainland visitors, and in 2003 the figure increased to about 8.4 million. 'The numbers will continue increasing with the implementation of the individual travel scheme.' But Chief Inspector Chu said the number of mainland visitors who had become involved in criminal activities since the restrictions were relaxed remained small. He said the period leading up to and after the Lunar New Year holiday was usually the peak season for the arrival of beggars, with a high number of arrests last month and in January. The chief inspector said he believed most of the beggars were operating alone. 'So far we have little evidence that the arrested beggars were controlled by organised crime syndicates,' he said. Yesterday, the police and the Immigration Department mounted a joint operation to crack down on beggars in known black spots such as Central, Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui. By last night five mainlanders who had entered Hong Kong on two-way permits had been arrested. Chief Inspector Chu said the suspects would be questioned and those found to have been begging out of genuine need would be sent back to the mainland. But those who had entered Hong Kong to make money would be prosecuted. On average, about 60 per cent of arrested beggars are returned to the mainland without being charged, but they are temporarily barred from returning to Hong Kong.