Motion on “Combating “Bogus Refugees”” (2016.11.30)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Hong Kong is a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“the Convention”). Without any question, on legal or humanitarian grounds, we have the obligation to assist genuine refugees in obtaining non-refoulement protection. But at present, the substantiation rate of non-refoulement claimants is only 0.48%, meaning that over 99% of such claimants are found to be “bogus refugees”, or “economic refugees”, during the vetting and approval process.

As the purpose of such “bogus refugees” who come to Hong Kong is not to evade torture but mainly to make money, two problems have resulted. The first is the emergence of illegal workers. In the first 10 months of this year, the number of non-ethnic Chinese illegal workers arrested by the Immigration Department stood at 421, an increase of 26% over the figure in the same period last year. I believe there is actually a far larger number of illegal workers. More illegal workers will be arrested when the Immigration Department steps up enforcement actions. The second is the problem of security. In the first 10 months of this year, the Police arrested a total of 1 214 non-ethnic Chinese persons holding “going-out passes” for committing criminal offences, a great majority of whom were non-refoulement claimants. The figure represents respective rises of nearly 10% and over 80% when compared with the figures of last year and two years ago. Meanwhile, it has been reported that some of the claimants have engaged in triad activities. The situation has become very worrying.

I have listened to the speeches of several opposition Members just now and found that they simply ignore the nuisance caused by such “bogus refugees” to Hong Kong people and also their financial, employment and security impacts on Hong Kong people. They only focus on assailing the pro-establishment camp as if all problems are caused by the latter. I think their attitude is one of refusing to talk about any facts and concentrating on assailing the pro-establishment camp. This attitude was frequently seen in the several recent debates. I hope they can realize that sensible reasoning on the basis of facts is the only way to convince Hong Kong people. They must not level groundless criticisms at the pro-establishment camp after seizing the moral high ground. Actually, they have repeatedly used such tricks over the past few years, so the tricks have gradually become less effective. I trust that only those who genuinely work for Hong Kong people will get the appreciation and understanding of the general public at the end of the day.

In addition to the problems mentioned above, the handling of non-refoulement claims also involves huge financial outlay. According to the Government, the estimated expenditure for the year 2016-2017 is as high as $1.13 billion, an increase of 50% over the previous year. I believe that if the objective is to provide assistance to refugees in genuine need in the long run, most people will still accept this heavy burden despite their helpless reluctance. Yet, the fact is that over 90% of the claimants are actually economic refugees seeking only to abuse the unified screening mechanism for non-refoulement claims. The public will surely be unwilling to let the community pay such heavy costs because of any bogus refugees, including the financial outlays and security and employment costs which I have referred to. Therefore, there is a practical need to combat the abuse of the unified screening mechanism for non-refoulement claims.

In fact, due to the efforts made by the authorities in recent years, the situations of illegal entry and abusing the unified screening mechanism for non-refoulement claims have started to show some improvement. Therefore, I support the Government’s moves in four areas, namely pre-entry control, vetting and approval procedures, detention, law enforcement and repatriation. All these can bring about stop-gap and ultimate solutions to the problems.

However, at present, the backlog of non-refoulement claims still numbers more than 10 000 cases. If new cases keep outnumbering completed cases, the number of cases will only rise endlessly and the problem will remain unresolved forever. At present, the annual screening capacity of the Immigration Department has increased from 2 200 cases in 2015-2016 to 3 000 cases in 2016-2017. However, the Government already received 3 481 cases just in the first 10 months of this year. Given the speed of screening 3 000 cases a year, the authorities will not be able to cope, and the backlog of cases will only grow. Fortunately, the Immigration Department has decided to allocate more resources and streamline its procedures, undertaking to increase its annual screening capacity to 5 000 cases by 2017-2018. If the undertaking can really be fulfilled, the backlog can be cleared step by step.

In the long run, as long as the Convention continues to apply in Hong Kong, cases of non-refoulement claims will continue to emerge. Therefore, we should formulate a long-term strategy. In my opinion, the Government should set specific goals for tackling the backlog of cases. For example, whenever there is a backlog of more than 5 000 cases, additional resources must be allocated immediately for expediting the screening process. This is the only way to ensure that the number of people stranded in Hong Kong is always on the decline and the pressure on the security of Hong Kong can be eased. Besides, chances for the claimants to work as illegal workers can be reduced and their waiting time will also be shortened.

Some Members suggest setting up detention centres to properly accommodate and manage such claimants. Nevertheless, the Government has indicated that according to legal principles, if the Immigration Department cannot repatriate these people within a reasonable period of time, the persons concerned must not be detained on a prolonged basis. That is why there will be a certain degree of difficulty in setting up detention centres. But if my suggestion is put into practice, the waiting time for these claimants will be greatly reduced. In that case, the legal problem with setting up detention centres can be solved. Apart from this, there is also the suggestion that we should study and learn from foreign governments’ practice of revoking the refugee status of those who have committed serious crimes and repatriating them. Hong Kong may consider adopting the same practice. I also think that this suggestion merits our further consideration if it is legally viable.

I opine that as Members of this Council, we are absolutely responsible for coming up with solutions to the problems facing Hong Kong. I hope that Members will sensibly look at the facts instead of assailing the pro-establishment camp at will. The way you assail the pro-establishment camp will only make people realize that pro-establishment Members are doing real work and thus show greater respect for them.

Thank you, President.

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