Shut down: Hong Kong and mainland China police nab 109 people in cross-border operation involving illegal immigrants

The arrested were mostly South Asians and said to have travelled through Guangdong province

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 March, 2016, 10:23pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 March, 2016, 8:27pm

Hong Kong and Guangdong police have shut down a major cross-border human-smuggling syndicate, arresting 109 people – most of them South Asians.

The latest crackdown came amid a rising trend of non-ethnic Chinese illegal immigrants being intercepted in the city over the past five years.

In the operation which began last Friday and is still ongoing, Hong Kong police, acting on intelligence received last October, arrested 44 people across the city. Twelve were core members of the syndicate, which had been active for more than half a year – five Pakistanis, a Bangladeshi, an Indian, an Indonesian and four Chinese.

They are accused of arranging accommodation for the illegal immigrants and boats to bring them from the mainland to Hong Kong.

“This syndicate is suspected of recruiting human cargo from places like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh for Hong Kong,” said superintendent Kwan King-pan of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau. They were also suspected of money laundering. The remaining 32 arrested were illegal immigrants, all male and mostly from Pakistan and India.

Police seized two sampans used to ferry them, along with HK$100,000 in cash and mobile phones.

In the same operation, code-named Highcrest, the Immigration Department arrested another 29 people in the city. Among them, 11 were suspected to be employing illegal labourers, many of whom worked in restaurants and were detained for breaching their conditions of stay.

For their part, Guangdong police arrested 36 people – seven core members of the syndicate and 29 non-ethnic Chinese illegal immigrants.

“It’s believed that this operation has successfully neutralised a major human smuggling syndicate active in both Hong Kong and mainland China,” Kwan said.

According to police, the illegal immigrants, after paying snakeheads at the source, would travel to the mainland through legitimate channels. They would then be transported to Shenzhen, where smugglers would look for a chance to move them to Hong Kong, very often by boat at night in poor weather conditions.

The number of illegal immigrants arrested in the city doubled to 3,819 last year from the previous year. Around 90 per cent of them were from Vietnam, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

“Nationals from these countries do not require a visa to travel to China, but need one for Hong Kong. So they chose to come to the city via the mainland,” a government source close to the matter told the Post.

“Guangxi is just across the border from Vietnam,” the source added. “This explains why Vietnamese are leading the pack.”

Chief immigration officer Lau Wing-kei said, according to experience, most of the illegal immigrants had left their home countries for economic reasons.

Among the 18 illegal workers arrested by his department, 10 lodged non-refoulement protection claims for refugees.

The government plans to target snakeheads with tougher jail sentences to stem the influx of asylum seekers.