Following is the transcript of the remarks by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in response to questions put by the media after attending the Legislative Council meeting today (November 14):
Reporter: How concerned is the Government over the reports that illegal immigrants are coming for medical treatments?
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: So far as the Hong Kong Government is concerned, we tackle the issue of illegal immigration very vigilantly. Most of these illegal immigrants come from Mainland China or from Vietnam, and we work with the Governments in both places to ensure that we can forestall their entry into Hong Kong to the extent possible. In the last two years, there have been over 4,000 illegal immigrants per annum entering Hong Kong. About 5,000 of them have been put into custody in the last three years. But on the whole, the Correctional Services Department has been able to deal with the inmates who require medical and health services. Our hospital beds in prisons have been well utilised. There is an utilisation rate of over 80% or 90%. On the whole, the situation is under control. We have allocated something in the region of $150 million per annum to deal with the medical and health services required in prisons.
Reporter: You did tell the lawmakers that the Government has been in talks with Vietnam and Mainland authorities about handing prisoners back to their homeland. But no progress has been made. Why?
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: The Hong Kong Government has bilateral agreements on the transfer of sentenced persons with 10 foreign governments, and a similar arrangement with the Macao SAR Government. We have raised the possibility of having such an agreement with the Mainland authorities and with the Vietnamese Government. But so far, both Governments have not been able to take this forward. Such bilateral agreements take time to negotiate, to discuss and to conclude. On the whole, the situation is under control and we do believe that it is important for Hong Kong to abide by the principles enunciated by the United Nations in 1988 for looking after sentenced persons and prisoners in terms of their medical and health needs.
Reporter: One last question. The lawmakers all think that perhaps the Government should come up with a survey to find out how many of these inmates are actually getting treatment, and I hope in your response you will mention...
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: We treat all prisoners and sentenced persons alike regardless of their origins, race, colour or nationality. It is important for Hong Kong to maintain our international standards and the principle of looking after these people according to the United Nations principles. Also, we do not believe that the situation is getting out of control. For example, I mentioned that in the last three years, we have detained and put into custody about 5,300 illegal immigrants. Among them, only about 5% - something more than 250 - have confessed that they have drug abuse problems and thus they require such treatment. The resources we have devoted in the Correctional Services Department and the Department of Health to look after these service requirements, health and medical needs are adequate to keep the situation under control.
Ends/Wednesday, November 14, 2007