HK court hands new defeat to mainland Chinese immigrants


In a fresh blow to thousands of illegal Chinese migrants here, a court ruled Monday they have to go home based on Beijing’s interpretation of Hong Kong immigration law — even if they were here before Beijing had its say.

Some of the migrants had argued they should be allowed to remain because they got to Hong Kong before Beijing laid down restrictive rules about residency rights that have now been accepted by Hong Kong judges.

But the Court of Appeal said they must leave anyway.

Beijing’s controversial interpretation of the law — its biggest intervention in Hong Kong affairs since the former British colony reverted to Chinese sovereignty in July 1997 — even applies to 460 people who were here before the handover, the court said.

Migrants and their defense lawyers were outraged at the ruling that virtually demolished their case.

“How far back do you go?” said lawyer Pam Baker, who is contemplating another appeal. “It’s pretty muddy thinking.”

“We won’t go back to mainland China, not till our death,” said Lin Gang, a 23-year-old man from Fujian province whose father is a permanent resident of Hong Kong.

“If they force us back, I am afraid we won’t be able to control ourselves anymore,” Lin said. “I hope we can resolve the problem in a peaceful way.”

The Court of Appeal rejected claims from more than 5,000 Chinese migrants that a trial court had ruled wrongly in June that they have no legal right to live in the affluent territory.

“We are aware that by dismissing these appeals we have dashed the hopes of many mainland residents wishing to settle in Hong Kong,” the court’s three judges said in a summary of their 159-page ruling. “But we have had to put their wishes aside. We have had simply to apply the law as we conceive it to be.”

Many of the mainlanders had entered Hong Kong before Beijing agreed last year to step into the emotional dispute, handing down a controversial interpretation of the territory’s immigration law that the Hong Kong courts are now following.

The mainlanders insisted that since they were here before Beijing got involved, they should be allowed to stay because Beijing’s ruling could not apply retroactively.

Immigration from the mainland has been the trickiest issue to confront Hong Kong since the handover.

Many thousands of Chinese want to move to Hong Kong, where citizens enjoy greater freedom and more economic opportunities than their mainland counterparts. Many have parents here.

Hong Kong admits limited numbers of migrants, but the government was thrown into a crisis in January 1999 when Hong Kong’s highest court, the Court of Final Appeal, ruled that anyone with at least one Hong Kong parent had a constitutional right to live here.

That prompted numerous Chinese to come to Hong Kong, believing they could automatically stay, Baker said.

“They said, ‘Hooray, we’ve won.’ And they came,” Baker said. She called the decision to now keep them out “depressing.”

Hong Kong officials warned the original Court of Final Appeal ruling would flood the territory with mainlanders, potentially overwhelming some of its social systems. The Hong Kong government eventually persuaded Beijing to intervene and tell the Hong Kong court it had erred.