Hong Kong seeks to arm immigration officials, empower them to ban people from leaving city

Published (HKT): 2020.12.19 06:49

Immigration officials would be allowed to possess firearms and ban individuals from leaving Hong Kong under a legal amendment proposed by the city’s government this week, sparking criticism from pro-democracy figures.

Lam Cheuk-ting, a former lawmaker with the Democratic Party, said the legal change could potentially give the director of immigration the power to lock individual Hongkongers inside the city “like the Uighurs in Xinjiang”.

Lam said the amendments would violate the freedom of movement stipulated under the Basic Law, and give immigration officers a power that they do not need for their work.

When the Immigration (Amendment) Bill 2020 underwent its second reading in the Legislative Council on Wednesday, Secretary for Security John Lee said the bill was designed to efficiently handle non-refoulement claims filed by asylum seekers. The non-refoulement principle protects asylum seekers from being returned to a country where they would probably face persecution based on their race, religion or other factors.

The bill would enable the director of immigration to receive information about a carrier, its passengers or crew members, and empower that official to ban any individual from boarding an aircraft or other conveyance.

Also proposed is arming immigration officers under an amendment to the Weapons Ordinance and the Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance. Lee said this change would give the Immigration Department more flexibility in handling emergencies and enforcing the law at detention centers. It would also increase the department’s flexibility in assigning personnel and heighten its ability to train its staff, he said.

A bills committee will likely be formed by the legislature, which is controlled by the pro-Beijing camp, although the choice of the committee’s chair has not yet been settled, Apple Daily has learned. Lam believes the bill may pass within two to three months.

Lam said immigration officers do not need firearms when dealing with asylum seekers, and they can call in police support when arresting illegal immigrants.

He speculated that the government is using asylum seekers as an excuse to expand its armed forces in the Immigration Department, creating more officers equipped to quel civic protests.

Lam said it would be a serious violation of Hongkongers’ freedom of movement to give the director of immigration the power to ban people from boarding airplanes or other transport without a court order. He compared that prospect to the fate of the ethnic Uighur people whose rights and freedoms are being suppressed in Xinjiang.

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