Home Business News Activists fear the HK immigration bill will allow arbitrary travel bans

Activists fear the HK immigration bill will allow arbitrary travel bans

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: British passport overseas and Hong Kong sitting on luggage

By Pak Yiu

HONG KONG (Reuters) – The immigration bill in Hong Kong’s legislative program on Wednesday gives the government virtually unlimited powers to prevent people and others from entering and leaving the former British colony, lawyers, diplomats and human rights groups said.

The government said the bill is only intended to screen illegal immigrants at the source in the context of backlog for asylum applications, and does not affect the right to move.

However, the lawyers said it allowed authorities to ban anyone, without a court order, from entering and leaving Hong Kong and not preventing indefinite detention of refugees.

The government, which has pushed Hong Kong on an increasingly authoritarian path since Beijing imposed sweeping national security laws in 2020, has faced no formal opposition after democratic lawmakers from organization continued last year to protest colleague’s disqualification.

Most prominent politicians and activists are jailed, charged under security law or for other reasons, or in exile. In response, Western countries loosened immigration rules for Hong Kongers and granted asylum rights to some activists.

Lawyers and human rights groups say the immigration bill gives authorities indispensable powers to impose “exit bans”, such as exit bans used by mainland China. . Beijing has denied that the bans are an arbitrary form of detention.


“We have seen how China limits the movement of people at home and abroad,” said Chow Hang-tung, a lawyer who is vice president of the Hong Kong Alliance, an organization that advocates for democracy activities. , persecution of activists and lawyers.

“They are saying refugees are a target, but they are extending their power across Hong Kong.”

Authorities in the United States and Europe have long asked carriers to provide them with detailed information about passengers and crew prior to the trip, according to an international convention, and Hong Kong said they just follow.

For example, the directives of the European Union state that authorities may not use data to deny entry for any reason other than “containment, detection, investigation and prosecution. terrorist crime or serious crime “.

They also made it clear that any decisions to restrict movement “should in no way be based on race or national origin, political opinion, religion or philosophical beliefs, or union membership. , health, sex life or sexual orientation “.

The Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) said in February that, by contrast, the Hong Kong bill gives “clear unregulated power” to the immigration director “to discourage Hong Kong citizens and those another to leave Hong Kong “.

It says the bill does not provide an explanation as to why such a power is needed or how it will be used, or any restrictions on the duration of a travel ban, or any measure. any protection against abuse.

The Security Bureau said the law would only apply to flights to and target illegal immigrants, expressing frustration at the “undue misunderstanding” caused by the HKBA.

In response, the HKBA urged the government to clarify the limits of the bill.

But last week, the Office said that freedom of movement was guaranteed by the city’s small constitution, the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights of the city, and this made it unnecessary in the bill to write. clearly those rights will not be affected.


HKBA declined to comment further. The Security Bureau led Reuters to a statement on Friday describing the idea that the bill would deprive residents of the right of travel as “completely nonsense”.

It said some organizations “tried to spread rumors with emotional and hostile rhetoric, misleading the public with bad intentions and create conflict in society”.

Attorney Senia Ng said the concerns about the bill are real and significant because there are no specific words to limit its scope.

Asian and Western envoys are concerned that their citizens may be affected. “There is a deep feeling that something more permanent could work here and we are watching closely,” said an unnamed Western diplomat.

If passed, likely as early as Wednesday, the bill could go into effect August 1.

Activists also said the bill raised concerns about the rights and lives of refugees.

Among the changes, it allows immigration agents to carry guns and, in some cases, requires asylum seekers to communicate in languages ​​other than their native language.

The government says there are currently 13,000 claimants in Hong Kong and the bill is intended to address backlog.

The screening process can take years and the success rate for claimants is 1%. During that time, working or volunteering asylum seekers is illegal and they live in limbo, on food stamps.

Currently, asylum seekers can only be detained if they break the law or are deported, and then for a period of “reasonable in all cases”.

The bill removes the phrase “in all cases”, which human rights groups say allows refugees perceived as a security risk to be detained indefinitely. The law does not prescribe what constitutes such a risk.

Rachel Li, policy officer at the Justice Center human rights group, said: “Even in the current detention system, there are still many unresolved issues, such as abuse allegations.

“The bill does not adhere to the principles of common law and international best practices.”



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