From South Asia to Hong Kong via mainland China popular route for people who want to enter city illegally, ethnic minority community leader says

Travelling from South Asia through mainland China to Hong Kong is a popular route for people who want to enter the city illegally, an ethnic minority community leader has said just a day after police revealed the arrest of 19 Pakistanis, including nine rescued from a deserted island.

The Pakistani community leader, who asked not to be identified, said on Tuesday he knew of some South Asians who had got into Hong Kong after they were successful in their application for a visa to the mainland.

“For people from countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, it can be very hard to get a visa [to Hong Kong] but in some cases, they can get a mainland Chinese one.”

He added that, once on the mainland, they would travel to Shenzhen in Guangdong province and board a boat bound for Hong Kong.

Jennifer Pforte, the executive director of Hong Kong Dignity Institute, says groups from undocumented immigrants from Pakistan may have been trafficked. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

“Actually, I think it is quite common for people to sneak into Hong Kong this way. This case probably only made the news because they were stuck on an island,” he said.

The community figure was speaking after police revealed on Monday that 19 Pakistani men and a suspected mainland Chinese trafficker had been arrested in two separate cases of attempting to enter the city.

One of them involved a group of nine on its way from Shenzhen to Hong Kong found marooned on Sunday on Shue Long Chau in Sai Kung, where they were believed to have been left without supplies for two days.

Trio arrested over illegal entry after rescue from boat in Hong Kong waters

A police source said the two groups flew separately from Pakistan to Urumqi, capital of the mainland’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, then to Shenzhen in Guangdong province to board small boats to Hong Kong over the last few days.

Police said 848 people suspected of being in the city illegally were arrested in the first nine months this year, including 112 Pakistanis, who ranked fourth on the list.

The biggest number, 266, were from Vietnam, followed by 244 from the mainland and 183 from Bangladesh.

Jennifer Pforte, the executive director at Hong Kong Dignity Institute, an NGO dedicated to helping asylum seekers and victims of human trafficking, said: “I have never heard of people coming via Urumqi, but a lot of asylum seekers do end up coming here via mainland China.”

Pforte said she did not believe the men involved wanted to come to Hong Kong as non-refoulement claimants – the city’s de facto asylum seeker status – because they could not work and there was less government support than in other countries and regions.

“I would suspect that this was a case of bonded labour,” she said.

“If they’re coming [being trafficked] from Pakistan, it would most likely be on the promise of a job.

“A recruitment agency will promise them work but they become indebted because of the cost of training, visa and flights.”

19 Pakistanis arrested over illegal entry to Hong Kong, some in island rescue

Pforte said bonded labour – where victims had their passports kept by the employers and their wages used to pay off their debts after arrival at the destination – was known to happen in Pakistan and Hong Kong.

She added that people were prepared to leave Pakistan because of problems such as political uncertainty, conflict in the region and a declining economy, which made them vulnerable to trafficking traps.

Pforte said she worked for the Red Cross in Pakistan during the Covid-19 pandemic and had come across several people who wanted to move to Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong can be quite appealing if you can get work. There is a large Muslim community here and people are free to practice their religion,” she said.

Additional reporting by Jess Ma

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