Hong Kong checks illegal Chinese immigrants

The British colony of Hong Kong is entering a testing period on whether it can reduce the flow in illegal immigrants from China. In the last two years some 200,000 of these new residents have swamped this tiny colony. But a tightening up of the existing liberal immigration policies suggests that the Hong Kong authorities have made up their minds that they intend to cut the number of illegal Chinese immigrants substantially.

Before this policy change, emaciated, desperate, shivering refugees waited, sometimes for days, without food and concealed themselves in Hong Kong's wooded areas or behind apartment houses. They waited for just the right moment to evade police patrols and smuggle themselves on bus, minibus, or car to city "safe zones." One designated days those who made it, now immune from arrest, lined up to register for the identity cards that guaranteed them the right to stay.

Those caught before they "touched base" were sent back to China from where many again tried to make it back to Hong Kong. The thinking behind this "touch base" policy was more than British humanitarianism. There was concern that a vast underground of refugees without identity cards, vulnerable to blackmail or arrest and ineligible for jobs, might turn to crime or foment unrest.

Just this year Hong Kong's bright light and the hope of lucrative jobs lured some 90,000 persons, mostly Guangdong farmers from China. And community services for the new arrivals over the next two years would cost $4 billion Hong Kong (about $8 billion US), according to government figures.

To cope with the influx, Britain has long pusehd for China to tighten border controls. China reportedly replied Britain should end its "touch base" system. Now Britain apparently has taken China's advice.

The Chinese position was reportedly made clear in recent London talks between Chinese Foreign Minister Huang Hua and British Foreign Minister Lord Carrington. Two weeks ago, Hong Kong's governor, Sir Murray MacLehose, met in Canton with Guangdong officials.

As of Oct. 23 anyone arriving in Hong Kong from China has no right to remain, no matter where detected.But appeals are permitted.

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