Legislative Council Panel on Security
Policy on the Closed Area and Closed Area Permit (CAP)
This paper presents for Members' information proposed improvements to the system and procedures for the issue of Closed Area Permits (CAP), and explains the Government's policy on the retention of the Closed Area and its coverage.
REVIEW OF THE ACCESS CONTROL TO THE CLOSED AREA
2. The Closed Area south of our land boundary was established to provide a buffer zone to help our security forces :-
- to combat illegal immigration and other cross boundary crimes; and
- to maintain the integrity of the boundary between Hong Kong and the Mainland.
Access into the Closed Area is controlled through the issue of CAP on the basis of need. 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 the operations of our law enforcement agencies. Further restriction applies to access to Chung Ying Street because of its unique physical condition (a narrow street which forms part of the land boundary between the HKSAR and the Mainland, and an "open" boundary without any physical barrier or boundary control point facilities thereat).
3. There have been public comments calling for improvements to the CAP procedures. Residents of Sha Tau Kok and representatives of Rural Committees have raised concern, in particular, about access control to Chung Ying Street. They feel that local residents, irrespective of whether they are indigenous or non-indigenous villagers, should be allowed access to Chung Ying Street. In the light of these comments, we have reviewed access control to the Closed Area, taking into account policy and operational considerations, and balancing them against the concerns and needs of local residents.
4. For effective boundary control by our law enforcement agencies, it is essential that access to the Closed Area should continue to be controlled. It is also necessary to specifically control access to Chung Ying Street as exploitation of the open boundary there by undesirable elements engaging in illegal cross boundary activities would seriously undermine law and order. However, some improvements to the arrangements could be considered to address the concerns and needs of the local residents.
5. We consider that access to the Closed Area should continue to be granted on a need basis, but a more flexible and liberal approach can be adopted in assessing such "needs". Improvements to the CAP system and procedures can also be introduced.
6. The North Provisional District Board (NPDB) and the Heung Yee Kuk (HYK) have been consulted and are generally supportive of these broad principles for access control to the Closed Area. They have urged the Police to adopt a more liberal and flexible approach. The Police has since reviewed the arrangements for the application and issue of the CAP.
The Proposed Changes to the CAP System and Procedure
7. The Police has now completed the review and proposed a number of changes to the CAP system and procedures. The revised procedures would provide clear and unified criteria for the issue of CAP, a more transparent system with avenue for redress, and removal of disparity in the treatment of indigenous and non-indigenous villagers. The proposed improvements are set out in paragraphs 8 to 13 below.
(a) Adoption of a more flexible approach towards the application of CAP on the basis of "need"
8. Access to the Closed Area will be permitted on a need basis. The Police would adopt a more liberal and flexible approach in assessing such "needs". The following persons will be considered as having a "need" to access the Closed Area :-
- persons who live or work within the Closed Area;
- persons who need to transit the Closed Area in order to reach their place of abode;
- persons who need to maintain a traditional link with the local community in the Closed Area because of family or historical ties;
- persons who visit relatives or friends living in the Closed Area;
- persons who need to liaise with the local Rural Committee within the Closed Area;
- persons who owns property within the Closed Area;
- persons who have been appointed to take care of property inside the Closed Area by the owner;
- persons who require access to the Closed Area for work or business;
- persons who are students of schools inside the Closed Area and their parents or guardians who need to provide escort for them.
The validity of the CAP will depend on the need in individual cases, but subject to a maximum of five years.
9. As for access to Chung Ying Street, currently only persons who live or work at Chung Ying Street or indigenous villagers of Sha Tau Kok are allowed access. To address the needs of other residents / visitors, the need criteria will be interpreted more liberally. The following persons will be considered as having a "need" to access Chung Ying Street :-
- persons who need to maintain a traditional link with the local community at Chung Ying Street because of family or historical ties;
- persons who live or work at Chung Ying Street;
- persons who visit relatives or friends living at Chung Ying Street; and
- residents in the Closed Area of Sha Tau Kok (not living at Chung Ying Street) who need to access Chung Ying Street frequently for legitimate purposes, such as shopping.
These criteria would meet the genuine needs of residents and visitors and enable the Police to maintain reasonably effective control at the "open boundary" at Chung Ying Street.
(b) Simplifying the system by reducing the current 15 classes of CAP to 2
10. Currently, there are 15 classes of CAP, the administration of which is cumbersome and confusing to the public. The Police would reduce them to two - "Resident" and "Visitor" CAP. This would greatly simplify the system and streamline the procedure.
(c) Improved application procedure
11. To facilitate processing, the Police would introduce separate application forms for "Resident" and "Visitor" CAPs. Guidance notes would be published setting out clearly how the application form should be completed and the supporting documents required. This would help explain the procedure to CAP applicants, enhance transparency and facilitate processing.
12. The application procedure would also be improved by incorporating a number of ICAC recommendations to prevent corruption opportunities and possible abuses :-
- applicants would be required to give consent for verification checks to be conducted;
- employers would be required to produce proof of employment when applying for "Visitor" permits for their employees;
- validity of "Resident" permit for a tenant would not be longer than the period of the relevant tenancy agreement;
- permit holders would be required to surrender permits for cancellation when they no longer live or work in the Closed Area.
(d) Review mechanism
13. The Police would set up a two-tier review mechanism. An applicant whose CAP application has been rejected may seek a review by the Assistant District Commander (OPS) (Border District) in the first instance. If necessary, further review may be sought from the District Commander, Border District who may convene a Panel chaired by himself to consider the case. Members of the Panel will include a senior police officer from outside the Border District who has not been involved in the CAP processing, and the Divisional Commander of the Police Division concerned in the Border District. The Panel's decision will be final. In considering a request for review, the Police would consult or seek information and evidence from relevant district organisations, where appropriate.
Closed Road Permits
14. The Police would also correspondingly simplify the issue of Closed Road Permits to vehicles which need to have access to the Closed Area.
Consultation and Implementation
15. The Police will shortly consult local residents on these proposals and the new arrangements can be implemented within two months after consultation.
RETENTION OF THE CLOSED AREA AND ITS COVERAGE
16. We have reviewed the policy on the Closed Area and its coverage from time to time in response to public views and comments.
17. Following the Reunification, there remains a need to maintain the integrity of the land boundary between the HKSAR and the Mainland. This is in line with the provisions under the Basic Law which stipulate that entry of people from the Mainland into the HKSAR will be subject to approval (BL22) and that the HKSAR shall be a separate customs territory (BL116). The Closed Area policy is part and parcel of the package of measures for ensuring effective boundary control.
18. 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.
19. Given the importance the international community attaches to our immigration autonomy and the integrity of our boundary with the Mainland, any moves to remove or reduce the Closed Area could spark speculation about our determination to maintain the HKSAR as a separate travel area from the Mainland. Any such doubts are bound to undermine our campaign for visa-free access for the HKSAR passport.
20. The coverage of the Closed Area will thus have to be examined having regard not only to the use of land resources, but also to the operational requirements of our law enforcement agencies.
21. The Closed Area extends from Sha Tau Kok in the east to the mouth of Shenzhen River in the west. The area covers 34 square kilometers of land in the North District and Yuen Long District. About 98% of the Closed Area in Yuen Long is zoned "Conservation Area" comprising mainly fish ponds and hilly terrain and the area close to Mai Po Nature Reserve is designated as Ramsar Site and any development in its periphery would likely affect the Reserve adversely. The remaining 2% is taken up by scattered rural settlements. About half of the Closed Area in Yuen Long is prone to flooding. The Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau (PELB) has advised that no particular sites therein are considered suitable for redevelopment. The Closed Area in the North District is characterized by rural setting and hilly terrain, only 10% of which are lowland areas comprising mainly cultivated land, vacant land and scattered villages. One-fifth of the area is prone to flooding. The area lacks basic infrastructure to support more intensive development. At present, development is mainly limited to village houses developed by local villagers. PELB has advised that these lowland areas scatter over a wide area with restricted vehicular access and their development potential is very limited.
22. At present our operational deployment of anti-illegal immigration duties and other law enforcement efforts within the Closed Area are three-tiered :-
- fence duties;
- ambush and patrol; and
- road blocks and snap checks on roads leading to the Closed Area.
The effectiveness of such deployment is influenced by the size and coverage of the Closed Area. 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. It enables the Police to exercise effective control at the most vulnerable points that could be exploited by illegal immigrants and criminals. Reduction of the size of the Closed Area would seriously negate the effectiveness of our boundary control measures.
23. Furthermore, following the recent court decision on the right of abode issue, there is tremendous pressure for vigorous anti-illegal immigration efforts. Any sign of relaxation of the Closed Area policy or reduction of the coverage of the Close Area will give a wrong signal which would be exploited and could trigger off a mass influx of illegal immigrants. In view of the proven effectiveness of the Closed Area policy, and given the limited development potential in the area, it is essential that the current Closed Area be retained at this stage so that our law enforcement agencies can continue to have the benefit of an effective buffer zone for combating illegal immigration, smuggling and other cross-boundary crimes.
4 May 1999
Ply-CAP.doc/LegCo Panel 130599