At least twenty Gambians are serving different jail terms in the semi-autonomous Chinese state of Hong Kong on charging bordering on drug trafficking, an extensive undercover report by the South China Morning Post magazine has said.
The report said to date, 64 drug arrests have been made, with 50 convictions: 35 for dealing drugs and 15 for possession, with total jail time awarded hitting 37 years.
Seventy per cent of the 64 arrested were African, 35 of those Gambian, on the streets of Lan Kwai Fong, the city’s best known entertainment district.
Of the total, 49 were asylum seekers.
Gambian men who bagged prison terms for drug crimes in Hong Kong included Tijan, 22; Lamin, 30; Manjang, 49; and Mbye, 22.
The report revealed that there were 10,628 non-refoulement claimants at the end of last month in Hong Kong, up from 10,450 at the end of September.
Of the 10,628, 167 were Gambians, representing the largest group of African claimants by nationality.
There are, however, no truly successful “asylum seekers” in Hong Kong, because the territory is not a signatory to the relevant United Nations convention.
But it does have a legal obligation not to send back would-be refugees who face torture or degrading treatment in their home countries, under the UN Convention Against Torture.
In short, the amped-up street-carnival atmosphere, the shifts in visa policies in Hong Kong and Taiwan for Gambians, and the ready supply of drunken wealthy expatriates who fail to realise the abysmal quality of the drugs supplied have provided a ripe market.
The report recounted how a 30-year-old Gambian torture claimant named Lamin was arrested a day after he was released serving eight months for possession of cocaine.
After which encounter with the law, Lamin was sentenced to 16 months for dealing cocaine when the case went to court.
“Hong Kong has become a magnet for Gambians over the past two years. Due to historic Commonwealth links – the Gambia is also a former British colony – Gambians were granted an automatic 90-day stay in Hong Kong on arrival, until the Immigration Department changed the rules in February, making visas necessary to enter Hong Kong,” the report stated.
“When their limit of stay expires, most Gambians make asylum seeker or “non-refoulement” claims, enabling them to remain while their applications are considered. They are not permitted to work, but receive monthly rent and food vouchers worth HK$3,000 and a monthly cash travel allowance of HK$200 to HK$400.”
“Processing can take up to a year by the time they go through the first level, and then there is the appeal,” says human rights lawyer Mark Daly. “But there have been repeated failures to speed up the system and I have known people be here for 15 years.”
Gambians, he explains, have traditionally not come to Hong Kong as traders, nor as tourists.
“But there were also Gambians coming straight from the Gambia, so we didn’t know who was who, who was seeking political asylum and who was an economic migrant.”
Some Gambians arrive at the airport and go straight to Kam Tin and Yuen Long, in the New Territories, he adds.
They join relatives there, working in the second hand car and container trades, earning HK$3,000 to HK$4,000 a month.
“But lots get caught working illegally and spend one-and-a-half to two years in prison,” he says, “So the smart ones go to the club areas at night and have someone supplying them with drugs to distribute.
“If you can earn HK$3,000 to HK$4,000 working illegally in Kam Tin and get two years in jail if you get caught, or you can work illegally selling drugs and get two to three months for possession of one or two grams [dealers get longer] and earn much more, of course, you will choose drugs. Then after two or three months [in jail] you can start again and make more money.”
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