Tougher sentences for people smugglers aren’t racist, insists Hong Kong security chief

Government has sought to add countries which are major sources of illegal migrants to list of countries on 1979 law stipulating longer jail time

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 April, 2016, 7:13pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 April, 2016, 7:13pm

Hong Kong’s security chief has denied racial discrimination in imposing tougher sentences on snakeheads smuggling people from major source countries.

Security minister Lai Tung-kwok sought an amendment at the Legislative Council’s security panel on Tuesday, to quadruple the maximum penalty for sneaking people in the city from eight countries – including Pakistan and Bangladesh – to 14 years as soon as possible.

Civic Party lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching questioned if it was appropriate to highlight particular countries in the amendment.

Suspected 'snakeheads' face prosecution in Guangdong

“You particularly named these countries and said [the situation was] identical to the Vietnamese and mainland Chinese refugee crises in Hong Kong. You ought to be very careful,” Mo said.

Lai said the amended regulation was to target snakeheads and the authority had no intention to smear anyone.

“I want to make it very clear that the enhanced sentences are against members of people-smuggling syndicates, not the illegal immigrants themselves,” Lai said.

The number of non-ethnic Chinese illegal immigrants stopped in the city surged from 547 in 2011 to 3,819 last year. Nearly a thousand were intercepted in the first three months of this year.

Around 60 per cent of the illegal immigrants were Vietnamese. The rest were from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

Hong Kong people smuggling syndicates smashed: nearly 3,000 illegal immigrants arrested in joint operation with mainland police

Under current law, dating from 1979, criminals smuggling people from the mainland, Vietnam or Macau face up to 14 years in prison and a fine of up to HK$5 million.

Snakeheads caught smuggling migrants of other nationalities face a lesser charge, which carries a three-year sentence and HK$25,000 fine.

The government proposed expanding the number of countries included, adding Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

“The present punishment is clearly insufficient in comparison with the profit of smuggling,” said Lai.

“The amendment will cover more than 99 per cent of source countries of illegal immigrants currently in the city. The heavy penalty could stem the influx.”