Hong Kong is seeking the help of mainland authorities to stem an influx of asylum seekers, mainly from South Asia, who are increasingly turning to people smugglers, or 'snakeheads', to bring them over the border. But a human rights advocate in the city said refugees should not be stopped from seeking asylum. Immigration Department assistant director Eric Chan Kwok-ki said asylum seekers were increasingly seeking entry to Hong Kong via the mainland. They paid snakeheads to smuggle them to the city by boat. Mr Chan said most of those caught were men from Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Those countries' citizens lost visa-free access to Hong Kong because many asylum seekers were found to be coming to Hong Kong simply to earn money. Mr Chan said of the more than 500 people claiming to have been tortured whose cases the department was handling, more than 120 people had admitted they entered Hong Kong illegally. The department will ask mainland police and Hong Kong's marine police to step up patrols for snakehead boats. 'We're trying to tackle the problem at source,' he said. In the first half of this year, an average of 160 people a month claimed asylum in Hong Kong, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has said. Last year and the year before, applications were running at 30 to 50 per month. Mr Chan said nearly 2,000 applications for refugee status were being dealt with. In the past, only 15 per cent of applications had been successful, as many applicants had been found to have come to the city because the salaries here were high relative to their home countries. Each application takes several months to investigate, he said, and the flood of applicants would slow up the process. Just 26 staff are responsible for this work, he said, adding the department would be hiring more staff. Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor director Law Yuk-kai said neither the mainland government nor the Hong Kong administration should be stopping refugees from seeking asylum by barring their entry to the city. 'This is not to say we should not strengthen border controls,' he said. 'But they have to send a clearer message that they are doing so only to deter the abusers.' Delegates at the 12th Pacific Rim Immigration Intelligence Conference this week in Hong Kong agreed to share more intelligence to curb illegal immigration.