SCMP Phyllis Tsang – Updated on Jan 14, 2011
It would take 31 years to screen cases of people claiming to have been tortured if immigration officials were to continue at the existing rate. Only 214 cases were completed last year and 6,700 are still pending. The Immigration Department completed the 214 cases after the launch of a pilot screening programme in December 2009. All the claims were rejected. Of these, 108 claimants appealed, with 74 of the appeals rejected, the department revealed yesterday. Fifty-five of the claimants were deported from Hong Kong after screening, and 1,636 torture claimants withdrew their claims last year and returned home.
“We would like to speed up the screening in the coming years,” Director of Immigration Simon Peh Yun-lu said yesterday, adding that procedures were smoother now the scheme had been trialed for a year. Screening of torture claims was resumed after a series of court cases. Under the new programme claimants are provided with legal aid and a duty lawyer. An independent appeal mechanism is also in place. New torture claim cases recorded a 45 per cent drop, from 3,286 in 2009 to 1,809 last year. “Certified torture claimants and refugees are not allowed to work in the city,” Peh said, adding that a court ruling barring torture claimants from working in Hong Kong might be the reason for the drop.