Hong Kong’s legislature has passed a controversial immigration bill, which lawyers, diplomats and right groups fear will give authorities unlimited powers to prevent residents and others from entering or leaving the Chinese-ruled city.
The government, however, has dismissed the fears and said that the legislation, which will come into effect on August 1, merely aims to screen illegal immigrants at source amid a backlog of asylum applications and does not affect constitutional rights of free movement. Hong Kong Security Secretary John Lee said that they are facing increasing challenges, especially preventing the number of illegal immigrants from rising and claimants from abusing the system. He added that the travel rights remain guaranteed and that the government will introduce subsidiary legislation in the near term.
The assurances, however, come in a climate of mistrust after the increasingly authoritarian path officials have taken the imposition of a sweeping national security law by Beijing last year. Lawyers say the new law will empower authorities to bar anyone, without a court order, from entering or leaving Hong Kong – essentially opening the door for mainland China-style exit bans.