“Intelligence suggests each individual was typically charged a five-figure amount of money for this air-land-sea journey,” one source said.
A group of Bangladeshi men arrested in a recent operation said they had paid more than HK$55,000 each for their voyage from their homeland to Hong Kong.
The source said they were lured to the city with promises of illegal employment, but some of them were abandoned on outlying islands near the maritime boundary because of snakeheads’ fear of going further into Hong Kong waters and risking arrest.
He added the relaxation of travel restrictions to the mainland for people from South Asian countries could be one factor behind the recent surge in arrests for illegal entry to the city.
“They usually claimed that life was not good in their hometowns, prompting their escape to Hong Kong,” the insider said.
When illegal immigrants from South Asia are detected, they normally file non-refoulement claims- the city’s de facto asylum seeker status – so they can continue to stay in the city as related authorities vet their applications,” he added. “Some of them may seek illegal employment.”
People are issued with a recognisance form, a temporary identification document that allows holders to stay in the city, but not to work, while their applications are being assessed by the Immigration Department.
“Officers from rural patrol units have also stepped up patrol in country parks and are scouring dense bushes for potential hiding spots used by illegal immigrants,” another source said.
The Post has also learned that the city has also sought help from mainland authorities to help cut off the flow of illegal entrants, but sources declined to to discuss what measures might be taken by officials across the border.
The most recent arrests occurred on Tuesday when 13 men from Bangladesh were found stranded on Shek Kwu Chau island in the city’s southwestern waters.
Preliminary inquiries suggested the men flew from Bangladesh to Kunming City in Yunnan province on October 25 and took a train to Guangzhou, another source said.
The source added the group was then driven to the coast on Monday night and smuggled across the border in a speedboat.
“A preliminary investigation suggested each member of the group had paid around HK$56,000 to a middleman for their illegal journey from Bangladesh to Hong Kong,” he said.
Police were called to the fishing village of Tai O on Lantau Island at about 10.15am on the same day after a 47-year-old hiker found a group of six to seven people suspected to have entered the city illegally.
Officers arrested a Pakistani man at Nam Chung Tsuen about an hour later.
The cases followed the arrest of 90 other people from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan on suspicion of illegal entry in a series of five incidents between October 22 and 28.
Police detained 28 men – 18 from Bangladesh, seven from India and three from Pakistan – after they were abandoned on Po Toi Island last Saturday.
The force also arrested 28 Bangladeshi nationals on Waglan Island the day before who were also alleged to have come to Hong Kong illegally.
Police rounded up 15 men from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan when they were found at High Island Reservoir in Sai Kung on October 25.
Police arrested 10 Pakistani men and a mainlander two days earlier after their boat was intercepted at Deep Bay in the northwestern waters of the city.
Another nine Pakistani nationals were also picked up on October 22 after they were found stranded on a deserted island – Shue Long Chau – in Sai Kung.
The Immigration Department received 1,149 non-refoulement claims in the first nine months of the year.
Among the 368 outstanding non-refoulement claims at the end of September, 132 were from Indonesia, 69 from Bangladesh, 66 from Vietnam, 24 from Pakistan and 23 from India.
There have been 320 substantiated claims since late 2009, with 43 from Pakistan, 43 from Yemeni, 25 from Rwanda, 17 from Bangladesh and 12 from Indonesia.
Beijing restarted the issuing of almost all types of visas for foreigners on March 15 after it eased strict coronavirus restrictions.
Chinese embassies in some South Asian countries said they had stepped up to facilitate visa applications, including the launch of an online processing system launched in June.
Additional reporting by Sylvia Ma