News: Territory urged to be fair toThais Consul complains as over vice checks

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Subject: News: Territory urged to be fair toThais Consul complains as over vice checks
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Wed Mar 17 1999 - 09:19:09 EST


Territory urged to be fair toThais
Consul complains as over vice checks
Agence France Presse, March 16, 1999

Hong Kong should respect immigration procedures and the rights of Thai
women who travel there with no intention to engage in prostitution, the
Foreign Ministry said yesterday.

The Thai consul-general to Hong Kong had already submitted to authorities
there a letter expressing concern that Thai women arriving in the territory
for the first time were being asked by immigration officers if they were
involved in prostitution.

The move came after the South China Morning Post quoted immigration
officers as saying they had been ordered to stop Thai women tourists,
whether arriving individually or in groups, for questioning and to search
their bags.

A ministry spokesman said Thailand respected the sovereignty of Hong Kong
and immigration procedures that are standard practice in the international
community.

Thailand hoped Hong Kong respected these same procedures as well as basic
human rights, including those of innocent Thai women who travel there, he
said.

At the same time, he expressed concern some individuals had damaged
Thailand's reputation by engaging in the trafficking of women.

One Hong Kong immigration officer who expressed disgust at the year-long
policy, codenamed Operation Hoover, said it was intended to bar would-be
prostitutes.

"It's unnecessary and we are lost for words when innocent travellers query
our actions," the officer, with 15 years' experience, said.

"Though a handful of cases do lead to deportation, the majority of
travelers are innocent and should not be treated in such a way," he said.
"It is also bad for Hong Kong's tourism."

According to the officer, the policy applied to first-time Thai female
arrivals aged 18-40. "In one case, a newlywed was furious after he learned
we questioned his wife on the subject," he said.

Another immigration officer said: "We had similar operations targeting
Filipinos in the airport three years ago but it was dropped after their
consul-general complained."

The immigration department refused to confirm whether Operation Hoover
existed.

A spokesman said: "We do have a lot of operations under way in various
departments at various entry points, so we cannot confirm that this
particular operation is taking place."

In Hong Kong, Rathakit Manathat, the consul-general, said he sent his
letter after receiving complaints from Thai tourists over the past month
about stringent questioning by immigration officers, which they saw as
discriminatory although it might be part of a drive against prostitution.

Mr Rathakit, still awaiting a reply, believed there had been no
discrimination against Thais in particular as he had heard from Hong Kong
immigration officials that stricter checks were being applied in general
due to fears about fake passports.

But consular officials have been told to look into the complaints and Thai
Airways staff to look after tourists bound for Hong Kong, he said.

On average, 54 Thai tourists arrived in Hong Kong every day last year. The
number of Thai tourists travelling to Hong Kong increased by 63 percent
from November to December 1998, the consul-general said.

During raids on nightclubs and karaoke bars in red-light areas last year,
228 Thai women were arrested on immigration charges along with more than
1,350 mainly mainland Chinese women and three Filipinos, according to
police records.

Anti-racism campaigners in Hong Kong have recently accused immigration
officers of singling out visitors from South Asia for body searches at Chep
Lap Kok airport.

Melanie Orhant

Co-Director
Human Trafficking Program
Global Survival Network

P.O. Box 73214
Washington, DC 20009
T: 387-0028
F: 387-2590
Email: morhant@igc.org
www.globalsurvival.net


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