Hong Kong needs mainland help to stop illegal immigrants being smuggled into the city
Many of those entering Hong Kong illegally are being aided and abetted by syndicates operating across the border
Cross-border police operations have broken up a major people-smuggling syndicate, with 73 arrests in Hong Kong and 36 in Guangdong, most of them South Asians.
This is a major blow against a rising trend of non-ethnic Chinese illegal immigration. But given the attraction of our city to people who leave home for economic reasons, the deterrent effect depends on Hong Kong and Guangdong authorities continuing to share intelligence and mount joint operations.
This is because of the transnational nature of the trafficking. Most of the 3,819 illegal migrants arrested in Hong Kong last year were from Vietnam, Pakistan and Bangladesh. They managed to reach Shenzhen before smugglers moved them here.
It says something about the alarming increase in people smuggling and the growing backlog of asylum claims that executive councillor and former security minister Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee has made the controversial suggestion of housing illegal immigrants in a camp on an island off Shenzhen.
While ruling out this solution because it would take too long, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the economic refugee problem was causing the city great distress. His plan to work with the mainland authorities at a diplomatic level to solve the problem is the right approach at this stage, given the pivotal role of mainland smugglers.
Under pressure to curb the influx of so-called fake refugees, the government is moving to toughen penalties against those trafficking in humans from South Asia and Africa, to bring them into line with those for smuggling people from the mainland, Macau or Vietnam. But first the syndicates must be rolled up and it is here that the mainland authorities can help Hong Kong with full cooperation.
The chief executive has announced a review of the handling of asylum claimants. If this speeds up processing and reduces abuse, it could be an important part of the solution.