The Security Bureau says it has no plans to ask Beijing to declare that the United Nations Convention Against Torture does not apply to Hong Kong but wants to instead broaden the maximum penalty against snakeheads smuggling migrants into the city. According to a paper submitted by the bureau to the Legislative Council yesterday, Hong Kong would still have a legal responsibility to screen asylum claimants even if the city ditched its commitments under the UN agreement. That contrasted sharply with Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s declaration in January that Hong Kong would unilaterally withdraw from the convention “if it is needed” to tackle what he claimed was the widespread abuse of the system by economic migrants. Put asylum seekers in reception centres and pull out of UN torture convention, says Hong Kong lawmaker Leung’s idea was also endorsed by former security chief Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong, but it was quickly rejected by Beijing legal expert and Peking University law Professor Rao Geping. Withdrawing from the accord not absolve the government from having to “screen non-refoulement claims pursuant to the requirements of our law and court rulings”. Victoria Wisniewski Otero, the advocacy and campaigns manager at the Justice Centre, a non-governmental organisation, said the bureau had failed to ease concerns over the city’s commitment to safeguarding human rights. Many policymakers had voiced support for the idea that withdrawing from the international convention was an effective measure to deal with bogus asylum seekers. Hong Kong’s refugee claim system leaves many tough questions “I think that’s really frightening and misleading,” Otero said. “There needs to be a lot more education on Hong Kong’s international human rights obligations.” The city faces a backlog of more than 11,000 applications on asylum or torture grounds , with more than half of the applicants being illegal immigrants. The government expects related expenditure this year to balloon from HK$644 million to HK$1.4 billion. The South China Morning Post earlier reported that authorities planned to impose tougher jail sentences on snakeheads to stem the influx of asylum seekers. Hong Kong could quit torture convention, says CY Criminals who smuggle people in from the mainland, Vietnam or Macau face up to 14 years of imprisonment and as much as HK$5 million in fines. Snakeheads caught smuggling migrants of other nationalities face a lesser charge of aiding a person to land or remain in Hong Kong unlawfully, which carries a three-year sentence and HK$25,000 fine. The government proposed in the same document yesterday, to expand the number of countries included in the more serious category to Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Afghanistan and Nigeria.