Ah Nan looks like any fashionable Hong Kong woman. She appears inconspicuous in her trendy sleeveless top, jeans and flip-flops in Mongkok. But this is her way of concealing her identity. 'I don't wear old-fashioned clothes so that police are unlikely to want to check my identity,' she said. 'Whenever I see police my heart jumps. I immediately grab my mobile phone and pretend to be talking, or head into shops.' When Ah Nan is home alone, she ensures the door is locked and never picks up the phone when it rings. Her family members are just as vigilant, closing the door on their apartment whenever they hear the watchman's walkie-talkie, fearing it might be the police. Twenty-seven-year old Ah Nan - which is not her real name - is a right-of-abode seeker living a secret life in Hong Kong. Her parents have been granted permanent residency, but she is one of a small number of mainlanders who live a life of secrecy, warily going out in public and slipping into the shadows at the first sighting of police. She is not alone in her fear. The Immigration Department says there are 150 abode claimants still hiding in Hong Kong. They are the last of thousands who lived here at the peak of the right-of-abode saga about six years ago. Back then, as many as 8,000 claimants resided in Hong Kong, with most electing to return to the mainland before a grace period set by the government ended in March 2002. The Basic Law of Hong Kong says the children of Hong Kong permanent residents have the right of abode, but it does not specify whether at least one parent had to be a permanent resident of Hong Kong at the time of their child's birth. Despite the situation being unclear, thousands of mainland-born children flooded across the border, sparking scores of court cases as they fought for residency status. The claimants were jubilant when the Court of Final Appeal ruled on January 29, 1999, interpreted the Basic Law to mean that children born before their parents became permanent residents were entitled to stay. But their joy was short-lived as the government, claiming that 1.67 million people would flood into Hong Kong if they were given the right, asked the National People's Congress Standing Committee to reinterpret the Basic Law. That June, the committee ruled that the abode seekers didn't have the right to stay because at the time of their birth neither parent was a Hong Kong permanent resident. In January 2002, the Court of Final Appeal sounded the death knell for the abode seekers' cause. It ruled that they did not have right of abode, and claimants were ordered to leave Hong Kong before the grace period expired. The issue slipped off the radar, seemingly forgotten by the government and media, until earlier this month, when four men forced the issue back into the headlines. During a protest over residency laws, the men - fathers of abode seekers - scaled a Wan Chai footbridge and held up traffic for hours as they threatened to jump. They won two meetings with Security Bureau and Immigration officials, but that was as far as they got. As their supporters waited outside, authorities told the parents in a meeting last Monday night that the administration would continue to strictly obey the Court of Final Appeal's ruling. It was the latest blow in a long-running saga for the ageing parents, with no resolution in sight. Standing among them was Ah Nan. In despair, she returned to the 200 sq ft Shamshuipo public housing flat she has been sharing with her parents since she arrived in Hong Kong in 1999. The presence in the community of the 'absconders' - as they are called by the Immigration Department - is not known to many, but for the families the struggle to stay together is all too real. Some mainland provinces do not issue two-way permits - which allow a stay in Hong Kong of one to three months - denying abode seekers the right to visit their parents here. The families argue this forces some to remain in Hong Kong as overstayers. Some also hope that by remaining in the city and living their life dodging authorities, they may one day be granted an amnesty. 'In some cases, their parents simply want them to stay,' said Lin Tao-cheng, the leader of an abode-seekers' parent group. 'Others stay to take care of their parents who are old and ill.' Jackie Hung Ling-yu, project officer with the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, which has been supporting the fight of the abode seekers since the 1990s, urged the government to help them. 'Family reunion is a basic human right,' Ms Hung said. 'Why doesn't society listen to their needs? They are entitled to it, according to the Basic Law, but the government used force to take it away from them.' She said the daily quota of 150 one-way permits was undersubscribed, and urged the government to use the remaining quota to enable abode seekers to live in Hong Kong with their parents. A former jewellery shop sales assistant, Ah Nan returned to her home in Shanwei, Guangdong, in 2002, but found it hard to adjust back to mainland life. 'I felt a wall between my friends and me,' she said. 'They like talking about getting married and having children, and I think about society and my fight for abode.' She also couldn't find a job because she was considered too old by many prospective employers. A few months later, in early 2003, she came back to Hong Kong on a two-way permit. Her return was during the height of arrests, when officers were raiding homes and dragging children out of the hands of their elderly parents. Ah Nan remembers how she sat each day at home, watching CCTV and anxiously peering out windows in case the police came. Today, the situation is much quieter. Raids are now rare and Ah Nan is getting used to spending time outside her flat. Each day, she travels to a concern group established by Italian priest and supporter of her cause, Father Franco Mella. The group provides education for abode claimants. 'I learn languages such as English, Italian and French, and video-making,' said Ah Nan during an afternoon at the centre, joined by other abode seekers. But many years of uncertainty have worn down her resolve to stay. At first, she had many friends in a similar situation. They stayed on together and supported each other on difficult days. But as time went by and their hopes faded, many returned to the mainland. Ah Nan says she now has just one close friend in the same situation. More than four years after they lost their court battle, many of the elderly parents, whose children are mostly gone, have not given up hope. Twice a week, they have sit-ins at Chater Garden or at the Central Government Offices. And each month, they have a march. But their voices are growing weaker. Ms Chen, who did not want to give her full name, is another abode seeker in hiding, having lived in Hong Kong for eight years. The 48-year-old Guangzhou native earns a living by helping a friend take care of her children, and cooking and cleaning. Fearing arrest by authorities, she dares not live with her father. 'I live in an abode seeker's parents' home, whose son has returned to the mainland. They took sympathy on me and let me live with them,' she said. Ms Chen's mother came to Hong Kong in 1960, joining her father as they began a long campaign to be granted residency in Hong Kong for their children. But their requests were rejected by mainland officials who told them that Hong Kong 'was for capitalists'. In the 1980s, as China opened up to the world, corruption was rampant on the mainland and only hefty bribes secured one-way permits to settle in Hong Kong. Her family had no hope of affording it, she said. In the 1990s, when a system was established for mainland children to apply to be reunited with their parents, Ms Chen was over the age limit of 14 (which later rose to 18, and most recently to 20 in some places). For her, the price of fighting for fairness has meant wasted lives - hers and those of her family. Ms Chen said her mainland husband divorced her after she spent such a long time away from home. 'I have got myself into this difficult situation, but the Basic Law says the right of abode is my right. I am staying to fight for it,' she said. Depression is another battle faced by some abode seekers, who spend long hours restricted to the home. Fai, 55, has been in Hong Kong for six years. He stays to take care of his sick mother, who has difficulty walking. Living with his mother in their Tseung Kwan O flat, Fai said he only went out once a week to get some fresh air. 'I wander in the shopping mall or sit downstairs at our block,' he said. Fai's mother tearfully bemoans the cruelty of the government in wanting to separate her and her son, and adds that she is worried about him. 'He is like someone imprisoned,' she said. 'I feel heartbroken. I told him not to kill himself. If he does, who will take care of me? I will die with him.' Chow Kwok-fai, who leads the Association for Parents Fighting for the Implementation of their Children's Right of Abode, wants 10 out of the 150 daily permits to go to the adult children. Meanwhile, Ah Nan has not given up hope. Recently, she had a beautiful dream. 'I received my residency finally and all my abode seeker friends celebrated with me,' she said. 'We were very happy. But then I woke up and realised that it was only a dream. I wish so much for it to be real.'