Hong Kong deportations tear children from parents

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Hong Kong (Reuter) - In an unusual display of force, Hong Kong immigration officers seized an eight-year-old girl and her mother from their family home yesterday and deported them to China.

Firemen stood by ready to smash the door. But the girl's father, who had defied orders to return his eldest daughter, Chung Yeuk-lam, and his wife to China voluntarily let immigration officers in.

Governor Chris Patten turned down the Chungs' appeal against repatriation last week and the immigration department gave the family until yesterday morning to return to China voluntarily.

Chung Man-kwong's defiance of the immigration authorities was unusual and attracted throngs of reporters to watch his handcuffed wife and daughter led away under rules that will still apply even after the Hong Kong handover in July.

Chung sneaked his China-born wife and daughter into Hong Kong when Yeuk- lam was just three months old. She had been repatriated once before but her father brought her back and she had spent most of her life in Hong Kong.

Leung Ping-kwan, a senior immigration official, said the deportations sent a signal that there would be no amnesty for illegal immigrants. He said his officers had been forced to use handcuffs. "We had been very restrained.

But Mrs Chung was acting violently. She even tried to kill herself by biting her own tongue," Leung told a news conference.

"If we gave them special treatment it would send a wrong signal to other parents that it is all right to smuggle their children to Hong Kong." Mr Leung said Yeuk-lam was one of 21 children deported yesterday.

Hundreds of Hong Kong parents pay human smugglers, known as snakeheads, to spirit their China-born children into the British colony.

Hong Kong operates a quota system, allowing 150 mainland-born children into Hong Kong each day to join their families here.

Hong Kong's future leader Tung Chee-hwa warned on Monday the rules would not be relaxed after the handover of Hong Kong to China on July 1 and that children smuggled in would be deported.

He plans to visit the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou on Sunday to discuss the problem with officials there.

Social workers estimate that 30,000 to 130,000 children living in China are eligible to be reunited with their families in Hong Kong. Most of them were fathered by Hong Kong men and born to mainland Chinese women. Both the mother and the children have to apply for residency rights to join their husbands in Hong Kong - a process which can take years.