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Like many societies, Hong Kong is having a heated discussion about immigration. Especially in regards to refugees. A common believe here is that refugees commit more crime than the general population and that most criminals are of South East Asian ethnicity. Further some have suggested the increase in refugees has let to a general increase in crime within Hong Kong. This has let to strong comments by some politicians (e.g. Dominic Lee in Sham Shui Po calling for internment camps). However, there is surprisingly little public data available to base these on.

Therefore, Open Data Hong Kong has attempted to acquire some data on the topic, especially Scott Edmunds who has spend a lot of time collecting the data by contacting individual police districts and police regions in Hong Kong through accessinfo requests. So here I will take a look at the data and see if I can find some answers.

The data

First I should mention something about refugees in Hong Kong in general. I was unable to find some accurate numbers on the total numbers of asylum seekers in Hong Kong. According to the immigration department there were around 9 618 people claiming asylum in HK in 2014, 10,922 in 2015, and 9,981 in 2016.

HK never joined the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, and asylum seekers can only apply under the UN Convention Against Torture. Or at least cite as a reason for protection. Furthermore, the recognition rate is very low. About 0.16% of applicants are accepted (the global average is 27%). The application process is quite slow as well. This results that many applicants stay in the city for years and many asylum seeker whose application have been rejected cannot be deported due to a lack of extradition agreement with the corresponding home countries. During their stay applicants, as well as those who are rejected, are not allowed to work, but the government provides some minimal rental, food and medical subsidy (HK allocated HK$450 Million in the budget of 2013/2014). Some have suggested that these subsidies are too low to maintain a living in HK and provide incentives to be involved with criminal activities. The majority of claimants are from South and South East Asia.

To asses crimes committed by refugees in HK I took a look at the data provided by Open Data Hong Kong, as well as publicly available census data and crime statistics. Unfortunately, not all police districts in HK were able to provide the criminal statistics of refugees. In fact only West Kowloon region was able to provide a complete picture across their district. Furthermore, these numbers are arrest statistics and not convictions (ODHK has collected data showing roughly 50% of arrests result in convictions). So any conclusions should be viewed with care.

Is there an increase in arrests?

This question is relatively easy to answer and I have plotted the overall number of arrests for each region by year below.

As you can see there seems to be no overall dramatic increase in arrests for all of the regions. However, there is a slight increase in crime Kowloon East and West, but in general the trend points downwards. This would suggest crime in HK is not increasing.

Arrests of refugees

Since I only have limited data available about refugees in HK I was only able to look at Kowloon West. Hence I compared the number of arrests of refugees with the total number of arrests within this region.

Let me explain this plot in bit more detail. I used data available for 2014 and 2015. Since Hong Kong does not use the phrase refugee as Hong Kong does not recognise the UN Refugee Convention, so the exact legal classifications are a bit vague. Nevertheless, some police stations have called refugees “Form 8” (F8) holders, so I will use this phrase here as well. Thus the plot above shows the number of arrests made in Kowloon West by F8 holders and all arrests between 2014 and 2015.

So comparable those arrests rate look quite small. Indeed in 2014 and 2015 the proportion of arrests of F8 holders was 4% and 5% respectively. So these numbers seem rather stable and would suggest no major change between 2014 and 2015, despite a slight increase in the number of refugees.

Do refugees commit more crime than others?

This question turned out to be much more difficult to answer than I thought. One problem is that I do not know how many refugees live in Kowloon West, further police districts are not the same as council districts. This makes it difficult to get an population estimate since the census data from 2011 only looked at council districts. Thus I am unable to answer this question with the current data. Only the availability of the exact arrest numbers of refugees for the whole of Hong Kong or the exact numbers of refugees living in Kowloon would help to answer this question.

Conclusion

There is no evidence of an increase in crime in Hong Kong (at least from the data available), also there seems to be a slight increase from 2014 to 2015 (looks more like random noise to me however). Arrests of F8 holders was relatively stable between 2014 and 2015. Intuitively I think the proportions of arrests of F8 holders are higher than one would expect given a small population of around 10,000, but one needs to keep in mind that arrests are not convictions. In general the data is not really sufficient to make a conclusive statement. Except that HK is incredibly safe compared to other major cities (0.4 murders per 100,000 people in 2016; one of the lowest in the world).

Thanks for Open Source HK for putting together the ODD event this year. See the interesting round table discussion with three LegCo members on our periscope stream. For more on this particular project, interact with this data via some Shiny visualisations and the raw data being collected at ODHK’s CKAN installation.