Hong Kong and mainland police have smashed three cross-border human-smuggling syndicates and arrested nearly 3,000 illegal immigrants heading for the city, most of them from Vietnam and Pakistan. Announcing the results of the first phase of the mega crackdown, which began a month ago, they said yesterday the operation would continue for another 16 months in a concerted effort to tackle the growing trend of economic migrants and bogus asylum seekers flocking to Hong Kong. Since they started in February, Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan police arrested a total of 2,860 Southeast Asians and 83 South Asians. The vast majority were from Vietnam and most of the others from Pakistan, a Hong Kong police source close to the investigation told the Post . One of China’s counter-terrorism units was also involved in the three major operations so far. It is understood that Hong Kong police passed on intelligence to their mainland counterparts on 94 of the detained illegal immigrants. Chinese officials raid gang smuggling 108 Vietnamese over border to work as cheap factory labourers Police on both sides of the border also apprehended 142 key figures from the three syndicates which smuggled people into the mainland with a view to sneak them into Hong Kong. One syndicate was led by a Pakistani national with links to Hong Kong known as “Lo Fu Chai”– meaning “Little Tiger”. Yin Chengjun, director of the Border Control Department of the National Ministry of Public Security, described the smuggling racket as “very organised” and structured with a “clear division of labour”. “The snakeheads in Hong Kong had control over the snakeheads operating in South Asian and Southeast Asian countries to smuggle the immigrants to Guangdong, and to sneak them into Hong Kong,” Yin explained at a media briefing yesterday. “We believe we have cut off major smuggling routes.” The majority of the 2,943 suspects were arrested on the mainland. The police source said the gang led by “Little Tiger” arranged a one-stop service to smuggle non-Chinese illegal immigrants, mainly Pakistanis, from their home country into Hong Kong via the mainland. The group charged up to HK$8,000 per head, which included an air ticket to Guangzhou and land transport to Shenzhen. “Most of them remained on the mainland for just a week before speedboat trips were arranged to smuggle them into Hong Kong from Shenzhen,” the source said. It is understood illegal immigrants use the mainland route because they can get a Chinese travel visa relatively easily as a result of their countries’ business ties with China, and no visa is required if they are on transit for less than 24 hours on the mainland. In an alternative human-smuggling route organised by another syndicate, illegal immigrants were able to easily sneak into Guangxi province from Vietnam because of lax security at the border. “We believe the mastermind of this syndicate is still on the run,” the source said. According to mainland officials, Sai Kung and Lau Fau Shan were popular landing points for illegal immigrants. Yin said the main purpose of sneaking into Hong Kong was to take up illegal employment. “The immigrants have also committed serious crime like thefts, robberies and drugs smuggling,” he added. Authorities in southern China detain nearly 50 illegal immigrants from Southeast Asia Mainland authorities yesterday pledged to tighten border controls in Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan and Xinjiang provinces, as well as to step up the joint crackdown with Hong Kong. Hong Kong is currently caught up on a debate over the issue of illegal immigration, especially from South Asia. The government sees the trend of bogus asylum seekers from the Sub-continent as a serious problem, but critics and rights groups say Pakistanis and Indians are being unfairly targeted when the vast majority of illegal immigrants over the past five years are from Vietnam. The number of arrests in Hong Kong doubled to 3,819 last year from the previous year. About 90 per cent of them were from Vietnam, Pakistan and Bangladesh.