Asylum seekers in Asia

Hong Kong appeal judges slam asylum seekers who commit crimes while waiting for claims to be settled

Court of Appeal rejects bid by claimant to challenge 13-year jail term for drug trafficking, instead increasing sentence by 10 months

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 11:29pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 September, 2017, 11:31pm

A court on Friday expressed concern about a growing trend of asylum seekers committing serious crimes while waiting for their application results, which the judges said was a “public scandal” that tarnished the city’s reputation.

The criticism was made as the Court of Appeal threw out Mahabul Alam Khan’s application for leave to challenge his 13-year jail term for drug trafficking, instead increasing it by 10 months to reflect a “serious aggravating feature” that he committed the crime while holding a recognisance form.

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The three judges found the lower court had erred in neglecting that Khan committed a serious crime aimed at the very community which had granted him the privilege to remain at liberty in Hong Kong while the authorities determined whether he should be returned to his home country.

They said this tarnished the city’s reputation for order and security.

Mr Justice Andrew Macrae said “that any applicant ... having his various claims dealt with for years on end is deplorable enough”.

“But where one claim after another is mounted, so that the applicant who makes them can remain free in the community to commit serious crimes in the confident expectation that the authorities will take years to come to any final decision, it is a public scandal,” he said.

Statistics provided to the court show there are currently more than 14,000 recognisance holders in Hong Kong. Among them, some 8,000 are awaiting assessment by the Immigration Department, 5,000 are waiting for appeal hearings before the Torture Claims Appeal Board and a further 1,000 await prosecution hearings and judicial reviews. A further 800 are waiting to be removed after having their claims rejected.

Police statistics showed the number of criminal offences committed by non-ethnic Chinese recognisance holders surged from 608 in 2013 to 1,506 last year. The number of drug trafficking offences committed by such people jumped from 48 to 126 in the same period.

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The court heard that Khan committed five offences, including four drug-related ones, since he arrived in Hong Kong from the mainland in November 2006.

The judges said it was not their purpose to cast doubt on the genuineness of those making asylum claims in Hong Kong.

“What we are concerned about, and have been for some time, is the growing incidence of serious crimes, of which drug trafficking is obviously one, being committed by people who are permitted to remain at liberty in the community for years on end while their claims are being processed. It is not fair,” Macrae said.