LCQ19: Handling of non-refoulement claims


Hong Kong (HKSAR) -      Following is a question by the Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat and a written reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr John Lee, in the Legislative Council today (February 7):

Question:

  In recent years, quite a number of illegal entrants (IEs) lodged, immediately upon entry into Hong Kong, torture claims or non-refoulement claims (collectively referred to as claims) under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. While handling such claims, the Immigration Department (ImmD) will issue recognisance forms (commonly known as "going-out passes") to such claimants for them to temporarily stay in Hong Kong. On the other hand, the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre (CIC) is a detention facility specifically for adult offenders who are detained, pending removal from Hong Kongunder the Immigration Ordinance (Cap 115).

However, some CIC staff members have relayed to me that they are facing huge work pressure because of an incessant rise in number of detainees and serious manpower wastage in CIC in recent years. While physical confrontations have occurred in CIC from timeto time, CIC staff members have not been given adequate relevant training. In addition, some members of the public have relayed to me that some claimants come to Hong Kong for the purpose of seeking medical treatment, thereby straining the public healthcare services of Hong Kong.

In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the existing procedure adopted by the authorities for removing rejected claimants from Hong Kong; the respective numbers of persons who (i) were removed from Hong Kong and (ii) refused to be removed, in each of the past 10 years; the current per capita expenditure on removing rejected claimants from Hong Kong;

(2) as it is learnt that some persons who have refused to be removed are allowed to continue staying in Hong Kong with going-out passes, of the current number of such persons; the annual public expenditure (including humanitarian and legal assistance expenditures) incurred by such persons' continued stay in Hong Kong;

(3) given that ImmD has earlier on removed 68 Vietnamese IEs from Hong Kong by means of a chartered flight, of the public expenditure incurred for the entire removal operation; whether the authorities will consider extending the practice of removal by chartered flights to persons who came from other countries (e.g. India, Bangladesh, Pakistan), with a view to expeditiously reducing the number of persons awaiting removal; if so, of the details; if not, the alternatives;

(4) of the numbers of claimants and IEs detained in CIC, and the per capita expenditure on providing meals for them, in each of the past 10 years;

(5) of the existing establishment of various ranks of staff members in CIC; whether the authorities will establish a supernumerary emergency response team in CIC so as to deal with physical confrontations more effectively; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(6) of the respective numbers of (i) physical confrontations involving detaintees (including torture/non-refoulement claimants) that occurred in CIC, (ii) persons punished as a result of involvement in such confrontations, and (iii) staff members injured when dealing with such confrontations, in each of the past five years;

(7) whether the authorities will step up the training for CIC staff members to enable them to deal with order and physical confrontations more effectively; if so, of the details; given that incidents of disturbances caused by detainees have frequently occurred in CIC, but only those CIC staff members who have undergone refresher tactical training organised by the Correctional Services Department four times a year are issued with the "exemption permits for licences for possession of arms and ammunition" on a continuous basis, which authorise them to use anti-riot equipment in the Centre, whether the authorities will (i) bring ImmD within the ambit of the Prisons Ordinance (Cap 234) to facilitate the discharge of duties by CIC staff members, and (ii) conduct studies on expanding the scope of the Weapons Ordinance (Cap 217) and the Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance (Cap 238), so that CIC staff members are automatically authorised to possess arms and ammunition for the purpose of managing the Centre more effectively; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(8) given that a large number of claimants are currently awaiting vetting/appeals in respect of their claims or removal from Hong Kong, and the detention capacity of CIC is very limited (although there has been a decline in the number of persons who have lodged claims in recent months), whether the authorities have plans to increase the capacity in detaining IEs (including torture/non-refoulement claimants) by expanding CIC, or making use of other existing prisons or re-opening vacant correctional institutions; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(9) given that some IEs suffering from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or other infectious diseases have lodged claims in an attempt to seek medications and treatment in Hong Kong, whether the authorities have compiled statistics on the number of such persons, and of the measures in place to prevent the problem from worsening?

Reply:

President,

     Since the comprehensive review of the strategy of handling non-refoulement claims commenced in 2016, the Government has already introduced several measures to prevent the arrival of potential claimants as far as possible, and also to expedite the screening of claims by the Immigration Department (ImmD). As a result, the number of new claims received in 2017 has dropped by 52 per cent as compared to 2016 and by 63 per cent as compared to the peak in 2015.

Meanwhile, the number of claims pending screening by ImmD as at the end of 2017 has dropped by 41 per cent as compared to the end of 2016, and by 47 per cent as compared to the peak in March 2016. As at the end of 2017, 5 899 claims were pending screening by ImmD.

     To prepare for the expected increase of appeals, the Government has appointed 74 new members to the Torture Claims Appeal Board (TCAB) since July 2016, more than tripling its size of 28 members before. The number of decisions issued by TCAB in 2017 has increased by 384 per cent as compared to 2016, and is expected to further increase in 2018.

     Non-refoulement claimants are illegal immigrants, overstayers or refused landing passengers.

Rejected claimants (including those whose claim has been withdrawn) must be removed from Hong Kong as soon as possible.

     My reply to the various parts of the Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat's question is as follows.

(1) Generally speaking, for persons to be removed from Hong Kong (including rejected claimants), ImmD will need to ensure that they have valid travel documents for returning to their home countries. For persons who do not, ImmD will seek assistance from the relevant  consulates. Separately, ImmD will make flight arrangements for their return.

For removees who remain reluctant to leave Hong Kong, ImmD will first explain to them the situation of their cases (e.g. that their non-refoulement claim and appeal have both been rejected) and try to make them co-operate. If their resistance persists, ImmD will consider the need to conduct forced repatriation, including deploying ImmD staff on board of planes to accompany the removees on their passage home.
 
     The number of non-ethnic Chinese (NEC) (including rejected claimants) removed by ImmD since 2011 are as follows (ImmD did not maintain statistics for 2010 or before):
 
Year Number of NEC (including rejected claimants) removed
2011 2 538
2012 2 836
2013 2 370
2014 2 273
2015 2 319
2016 2 922
2017 4 139
 
     ImmD does not maintain statistics on unsuccessful removal operations.

The cost of removing rejected claimants from Hong Kong consists mainly of staff cost of ImmD and air ticket expenses (including that of removees and of staff of ImmD where forced repatriation is required). Removal of rejected claimants is part and parcel of the work of the Enforcement Branch of ImmD, and ImmD does not maintain separate statistics on the average cost of removing rejected claimants.

(2) As at December 31, 2017, 1 828 rejected claimants were pending removal arrangement by ImmD; most of them were released on recognisance under section 36 of the Immigration Ordinance (Cap 115). In deciding whether to release a person pending removal on recognisance in lieu of detention, ImmD will, in accordance with the prevailing detention policy, take into consideration all the relevant circumstances of the case, including whether the person's removal is going to take place within a reasonable time, whether the person constitutes a threat or security risk to the community, the risk of the person absconding, etc.

     Handling persons released on recognisance is part and parcel of the work of the Enforcement Branch of ImmD, and ImmD does not maintain separate statistics on such cost.

As regards the humanitarian assistance programme for non-refoulement claimants being operated by the International Social Service Hong Kong Branch, the average cost per service user per month is $3,740 in 2017. Separately, since the non-refoulement claim of persons pending removal arrangement should have been either rejected or withdrawn, they would no longer be provided with publicly-funded legal assistance.

(3) As mentioned in (1) above, ImmD will make flight arrangements for removees who possess valid travel documents to return to their home countries. In doing so, ImmD may secure flight tickets for individual removees on a case-by-case basis, or charter a commercial flight for a larger group of removees.

In respect of the former, the number of tickets that ImmD is able to secure per flight is often limited, due to market situation or limitations imposed by airlines. In some cases, the latter approach would ensure that removal is effected as soon as possible. On December 28, 2017, ImmD removed 68 Vietnamese illegal immigrants from Hong Kong on a chartered flight.

The operation cost is about $330,000.

     ImmD will continue to remove rejected claimants by choosing the most effective and suitable means, depending on the circumstances of each case, including deploying chartered flights (to Vietnam or other countries).

(4) The average detainee population (including rejected claimants) per day since ImmD began to operate the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre (CIC) in April 2010 is as follows.
 
Year Average detainee population per day
2010 (since April) 250
2011 301
2012 361
2013 407
2014 403
2015 414
2016 382
2017 385
 
     The average cost of meals per detainee per day in each of the years during the period ranges from $81 to $102.

(5) To ensure the effective management of CIC, ImmD regularly reviews the provision of manpower and equipment there. After an injection of 30 additional posts in June 2017, there are now 177 civil service posts under the establishment of CIC. A breakdown by rank is as follows.
 
Rank Establishment
Assistant Principal Immigration Officer 1
Chief Immigration Officer 1
Senior Immigration Officer 5
Immigration Officer 11
Chief Immigration Assistant 12
Senior Immigration Assistant 39
Immigration Assistant 103
Clerical Officer 1
Assistant Clerical Officer 3
Supplies Supervisor II 1
Total 177
 
     Certain services, including medical, kitchen and laundry, etc.

are contracted out.

     All frontline officers of ImmD are regularly provided with training aiming to enhance their responsiveness to emergency situations. As for staff of CIC, they will receive specific training tailor-made to ensure that they are capable of coping with any emergency situation that might happen at the CIC, including resistance control, escort technique, the use of anti-riot equipment, fire drill, scenario training, etc. ImmD will keep the need for forming an emergency response team under review.

(6) The number of cases of physical confrontation involving detainees (including claimants) in CIC in the past five years is as follows.
 
Year Cases of Physical Confrontation Detainees receiving disciplinary penalties Staff injured as a result of physical confrontation
2013 21 32 0
2014 15 38 0
2015 26 42 1
2016 38 65 5
2017 24 51 0
  
(7) In view of the different nature of work between managing CIC and other immigration work, Immigration Service staff responsible for CIC's operation have to receive dedicated training in relation to the management of a detention centre, including:

(i) Before deployment to CIC, a three-week training course, comprising a one-week Detention Centre Management Course focusing on the daily operation of a detention centre, and two-week tactical training to train up staff to respond to riotous situations; 

(ii) Every three months, refresher training organised by the Correctional Services Department (in order to be qualified to carry and use anti-riot equipment in CIC); and 

(iii) Every two weeks, a one-hour in-house training session to further enhance on-the-job knowledge and capability to handle daily operations and unexpected incidents.

     In addition, CIC operation staff will also be arranged to attend courses in relation to negotiation skills and counseling to enhance their ability to handle emergency situations.

     The operation of CIC is governed by the Immigration (Treatment of Detainees) Order (Cap 115E).  There is no plan at this stage to have its operation included under the Prison Rules (Cap 234A).

     The Government is studying the suggestion of amending the Weapons Ordinance (Cap 217) and the Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance (Cap 238) to provide more effective operational support to detention facilities, as part of the review of the Immigration Ordinance and related ordinances to improve the screening procedures for non-refoulement claims and on other related matters.

(8) Persons detained under the Immigration Ordinance may be detained in places stipulated under the Immigration (Places of Detention) Order (Cap 115B), including CIC, ImmD's other detention facilities at control points, as well as sites and buildings that are set apart for the purposes of prisons under the Prisons Ordinance (Cap 234) and specified in the Schedule of the Prisons Order (Cap 234B).

At present, illegal immigrants detained by ImmD (including claimants) are mostly detained at CIC, which has a capacity of up to 500.

     We are considering different detention measures from the legal, public security and resources perspectives, including the availability of more detention facilities, and providing more effective operational support to detention facilities. We will update the Legislative Council in due course.

(9) In accordance with the current practice for waiving of medical charges for non-eligible persons, approval for one-off waiver of medical expenses at public clinics or hospitals will be given to claimants on a case-by-case basis, subject to the assessment by the Hospital Authority (HA) or service units of the Social Welfare Department. In 2016/17, the number of inpatient cases and outpatient attendance granted with medical fee waivers for non-refoulement claimants is 1 870 and 18 000 respectively.

HA does not maintain further statistics with breakdown by the type of disease(s) suffered by claimants.

     The Government will continue to tackle the issue of non-refoulement claims at root through targeted measures under the comprehensive review of the strategy of handling non-refoulement claimants, including on arrival prevention, screening procedures, detention, enforcement and removal.



Published on: 2018-02-07

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