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Hong Kong bookseller disappearances

Hong Kong’s missing persons: thousands of people vanish every year but the police don’t keep official records

An average of 4,818 people are reported missing every year in Hong Kong - but we don’t know how many for sure, as the police don’t keep official records

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 January, 2016, 1:27am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 January, 2016, 6:14pm

Nearly 3,000 people make up Hong Kong’s considerable list of missing people, leaving behind confused and distraught families and friends. The Hong Kong Police doesn’t have readily available information on how the situation has changed after the handover, or who the victims typically are, but one scholar says many people vanish on purpose because they are on the run from debts they cannot pay.

From January 2011 to October 2015, 24,090 people were reported missing in Hong Kong. Most of them were found, but 2,717 remained missing, according to official data.

In the first ten months of last year, there were 3,116 people reported missing. Of that number, 271 were not found, despite Hong Kong being one the safest places in the world.

Bookseller Lee Bo and four other publishers, who went missing recently, have made headlines worldwide. Their disappearances, which recent evidence suggests was politically motivated, raises questions over the large number of individuals who disappear in Hong Kong — either forcibly or willingly — and provoke questions not just about the reasons behind their disappearances, but the absence of detailed information publicly available on the matter.

The Hong Kong Police — unlike other regions or countries like England — does not release an annual detailed report on missing persons. Studies on the matter in Hong Kong are also rare.

Sarah Hua Zhong, an associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Department of Sociology, said financial problems might be behind many missing cases. “Some people borrow money and then find themselves having great debts. As we all know, with the presence of criminal organisations in Hong Kong, many are threatened, and their families also become victims,” she said. “As they are not able to pay, many might just decide to run away.”

Zhong noted that this is a not a new concept in Hong Kong. Some use fake passports to reach overseas, others might take illegal ships, she said, noting that most missing persons are likely to be young or middle-aged men.

“Whether adults go missing intentionally or unintentionally, there is almost always vulnerability involved,” Sophie Lapham, director of services at the international organisation Missing People, wrote in an opinion column published in The Guardian last September.

According to experts, people who suffer from mental or other health issues might be particularly vulnerable. That was the case of Yu Man-hon, an autistic and hyperactive boy, who crossed the border at Lo Wu. No-one seems to know what happened to him after Shenzhen immigration officers tried to return him and Hong Kong officers turned him away.

The incident occurred on August 24, 2000, when Yu was 15, but had a mental age of a two-year-old boy. His mother is still looking for him.

Another mysterious case happened in 2008, but this time involved a tourist.

Ani Ashekian, a Canadian paralegal , was travelling alone when she disappeared. She entered Hong Kong on November 9, but there is no record of her leaving the city.

Ani, 30 at the time, was seen at Chungking Mansions on November 10, before she withdrew money from an ATM inside the Causeway Bay MTR station.

Family and friends never heard from her ever since. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been given any new information,” her boyfriend at the time, Wenddell Walsh, told the Post by email.

But despite the years that went by, he said: “Ani was an amazing person, so I will never give up hope that she will return home safely.”