Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Security
Closed Area and Closed Area Permit
This paper presents the Government's policy on the Closed Area, the reasons for its retention and maintenance of the present coverage. It also explains the policy and arrangements for the issue of Closed Area Permits (CAP) for controlling access to the Closed Area.
Establishment of the Closed Area (formerly known as Frontier Closed Area (FCA))
2. The FCA was first established in 1951 under the Public Order Ordinance (Cap. 245) in view of the considerable border activities and the increasing illegal immigration problem at the time. The aims were to provide a buffer zone to help the security forces -
- to maintain the integrity of the boundary between Hong Kong and the Mainland; and
- to combat illegal immigration and other cross boundary criminal activities.
Review of the Closed Area
3. Since the establishment of the FCA and the extension of the area to its present boundary in 1962, the Government has from time to time reviewed its need and coverage. These reviews have confirmed the need to retain the Closed Area as a buffer zone to facilitate effective operations against illegal immigration, smuggling and other cross-boundary crimes. Except for some fine tuning of the boundary of the Closed Area, (inclusion of Lok Ma Chau Boundary Crossing Point in 1989 and exclusion of the North East New Territories landfill in 1991), the coverage has been found to be appropriate.
4. In view of recent public comments on the Closed Area, the Security Bureau, in conjunction with the Police, Customs and Excise and Immigration Department, have re-examined the operational and practical considerations in support of the Closed Area policy. Our observations are detailed in the following paragraphs.
The Need for Retention of the Closed Area
5. Following the reunification, there remains a need to maintain the integrity of the land boundary between the HKSAR and the Mainland, in line with the provisions under the Basic Law which stipulate that entry of people from other parts of China into the HKSAR will be subject to approval (BL22) and that the HKSAR shall be a separate customs territory (BL116). The Secretary for Security has pledged in his 1997 policy commitments to maintain tight boundary control against illegal movement of people and goods.
6. The Closed Area policy is part and parcel of the entire package of co-ordinated tactics for an effective boundary control, which include the physical boundary fence, barbed wire, sensor cable, use of technical aids, frequent patrols, ambushes and the land use control in the Closed Area by way of restricted access and development. Relaxing any one of the control measures could adversely affect the overall effectiveness of our efforts in combating illegal immigration, smuggling and cross boundary crimes.
7. Past experience shows that the physical, legal and administrative controls embodied under the Closed Area policy have greatly facilitated Police operations for apprehending illegal immigrants, countering any major influx and have facilitated Customs efforts in combating smuggling. In the past three years, more than 60% of the illegal immigrants arrested in the Closed Area were apprehended away from the boundary fence and about 40% were arrested at or near the fence. Abolition of the Closed Area and lifting the restriction of access to the boundary area would make it more difficult for illegal immigration, smuggling and cross-boundary crimes to be detected. This would hamper the efficiency of our law enforcement agencies and jeopardise our boundary control. We would require a considerable number of additional security forces to maintain the present level of effectiveness if we do not have the Closed Area control measures.
8. While the number of illegal immigrant arrests has dropped in recent years, there must be no relaxation in our anti-illegal immigration efforts. The pressure on immigration from the Mainland is still high; there are many children and spouses of Hong Kong residents who wish to join their family here. Any sign of relaxation of our anti-illegal immigration efforts could give a wrong signal and would be exploited. This could trigger off a huge influx of illegal immigrants. We should not, therefore, underestimate the impact brought on by abolition of the Closed Area.
Coverage of the Closed Area
9. The Closed Area covers the northeast part of Yuen Long and North districts, with a total area of about 3400 hectares. Its width ranges from about 1/2 kilometre at the Ping Che Road in Ta Kwu Ling and at Lok Ma Chau, to 1½ kilometres in the mountainous Sha Tau Kok area. The bulk of the Closed Area mainly comprises fish ponds and hilly terrain with limited development potential. A map showing the coverage of the Closed Area is attached.Reasons for Maintaining the Present Coverage of the Closed Area
10. The operational deployment of anti-illegal immigration duties within the Closed Area is three tiered
- fence duties;
- ambushes and patrols; and
- road blocks and snap checks on roads leading to the Closed Area.
The effectiveness of such deployment will be influenced by the width and size of the Closed Area. The smaller the Closed Area, the easier it would be for the illegal immigrants to merge with the population, and hence the more difficult it would be for interdicting and seeking out illegal immigrants, and the more opportunities for the aiders and abettors. Similarly, there would be more opportunities for smuggling and other cross boundary criminal activities.
11. The current delineation of the southern boundary of the Closed Area has been determined to a large extent by reference to the topography, road and infrastructure network within the Area and access to police support facilities. The boundary cuts across major public roads at strategic positions which enable the Police to exercise effective control at the most vulnerable points which could be exploited by illegal immigrants and criminals.
12. There are five main ingresses into the Closed Area by road (highlighted on the map attached):-
- Sha Tau Kok Road
The southern boundary of the Closed Area here lies near Shek Chung Au, where a permanent road block has been set up to control access into the Closed Area. This is at the cleft between two hills which offers a very advantageous position from the police operational point of view. No other position along the Sha Tau Kok Road would offer the same security advantage.
- Ping Che Road
The width of the Closed Area where its southern boundary cuts across Ping Che Road is ½ km only, which makes operational deployment difficult. The absence of hills in the area do not offer similar advantage as on Sha Tau Kok Road, but the current southern boundary and the location for permanent road block access control can allow a good all around view of the vicinity.
- Man Kam To Road
The southern boundary of the Closed Area at Man Kam Road has the advantage of a hill on one side and an open area running down to a river on the other. These are good security features for effective police road block access control, which would be lost if the boundary is moved elsewhere.
- Lok Ma Chau Road
The southern boundary in this area cuts Lok Ma Chau Road near the Lok Ma Chau Police Station at Ha Wan. Again, the location offers the best geographical security advantage with a hill on one side, which facilitates effective access control.
- Lok Ma Chau Border Crossing Point (BCP)
The current southern boundary in this area allows adequate cover for the ingress road to the BCP, which is the main vehicular route into Mainland. It would not be prudent to move the Closed Area boundary northward here.
Similar considerations apply to minor roads leading up to the land boundary.
13.The Police's overall assessment is that moving the southern boundary of the Closed Area northward would negate the security advantages they now enjoy with the vantage points along the current southern boundary and substantially frustrate their operational efforts. A reduction in size of the Closed Area will facilitate the escape of illegal immigrants and smugglers. A smaller Closed Area means that illegal immigrants and smugglers have a higher chance of escaping from the Closed Area. This makes it more difficult for the security forces to locate and arrest them. Increase in developments close to the Hong Kong Shenzhen boundary could provide more hiding places for illegal immigrants and smugglers. Increase in traffic to these areas could make it easier for these undesirable elements to escape out of the Closed Area after crossing the boundary. It will also be more difficult to deploy other anti-illegal immigration tactics, such as patrols and ambushes. More importantly, this will also send a wrong signal to the smugglers and would-be illegal immigrants. Such negative effects cannot be made up for by other operational tactics such as upgrading the boundary fence and the use of technical aids.
14.Furthermore, in the absence of corresponding development of transport infrastructure, reducing the size of the Closed Area control would attract more visitors to the areas close to the land boundary. The increase in domestic vehicular traffic and visitors will add congestion to the already heavy cross boundary traffic.
Closed Area Permit (CAP)
15. Access by the general public to the Closed Area is controlled by the issue of CAPs. This is to prevent excessive presence of people and activities in the area which, if allowed in sufficient volume and proximity to the boundary, will hinder actions and tactics of our law enforcement agencies. CAPs are issued strictly on a need basis. There are two major types of CAPs: resident permit and visitor permit. Resident permit, valid up to a maximum of five years, is issued to residents of the Closed Area and indigenous villagers of the Closed Area who reside inside or outside the Closed Area. Visitor permit is issued in respect of visit for specific purpose. These visitors include mainly relatives and friends of Closed Area residents, persons who study or work within the Closed Area. Depending on the nature of the visit, the validity of the permit may be for a period of up to 12 months.
16. The Police is currently reviewing the CAP system with a view to increasing its transparency , improving communication with applicants and providing a review mechanism for dealing with cases of rejection.
17. Improvement measures under consideration include :-
- publication of information pamphlet for distribution to local residents and CAP applicants to explain the application procedures;
- computerisation to increase efficiency and streamline procedures;
- revision of internal guidelines for the issue of CAP to take into account the current situation in the Closed Area; and
- putting in place a review mechanism for dealing with reject cases.
In the meantime, the Police has also stepped up liaison with village representatives and local residents.