HONG KONG has sought urgent talks with China over the repatriation of 600 ex-China Vietnamese illegal immigrants, who have cost taxpayers more than $25 million to keep in detention. The group of 600 has been here for more than a year and China has cited delays in taking them back because of difficulties in confirming their identities and their home provinces. Recent floods in southern China, where most of them are from, have also kept staff of the Civil Affairs Office in China preoccupied. Assistant Director of Immigration Choy Ping-tai said he understood the difficulties China was having with the floods but at the same time he was concerned that the group be returned as soon as possible. Mr Choy said the majority of the group had expressed a wish to return to China and now viewed repatriation as their only option. 'It costs Hong Kong about $100 a day per person to keep them in detention, feed them, etc and over the year that they have been here that runs into a lot of money,' he said. Based on the cost of $100, and that they arrived in the main influx in June last year, the total cost of keeping the group has been about $25.2 million. 'The Immigration Department has asked China if we could arrange a meeting at a working level to resolve the issue once and for all. We have yet to receive a response from China.' Their departure would pave the way for about 100 Correctional Services Department officers guarding them at the Chi Ma Wan (Lower) detention centre to be redeployed and for the centre to be modified to hold general prisoners. About 2,400 illegal immigrants began arriving in June last year after the provincial Beihai Government bulldozed thousands of homes to make way for property development. However, the repatriation is dependent on China verifying the identities and home provinces of the illegal immigrants. China agreed to take them back after meeting Hong Kong officials in August last year but the process has been repeatedly delayed. The detainees were originally scheduled to have returned by the end of last year, but delays in verifying their identities, coupled with difficulties chartering aircraft during the busy Christmas to Lunar New Year period, meant their repatriation could not be completed as scheduled. Local Chinese provincial authorities such as those in Beihai refuse to accept people who cannot be verified as coming from that province. Most of those remaining claim to be from the prosperous Guangxi, Hainan, Fujian and Guangdong provinces. Mr Choy said the final 600 people were difficult cases because of their long absence from China and the need to check household registration records with the claims being made by the illegals. He said only 17 ex-China Vietnamese illegal immigrants had arrived this year. More than $5 million has been spent on the return of the illegal immigrants in the past year and it is expected that the total repatriation cost will be about $7 million.