There has long been a history of illegal immigration across both the land and sea borders into Hong Kong. Just before the start of the Second World War, the population of Hong Kong was less than 2 million. In 1995, the population was just over 6 million. Many of the additional 4 million people have come from mainland China. Prior to 1980 there was a "touch base" policy allowing any immigrant who reached the Immigration Offices in Kowloon to obtain an ID card and live legally in Hong Kong. The surges of immigrants into the Territory have mirrored the political and social disturbances in China. During the early 60s for example there was a huge influx.
Until 1991, patrolling the land border was the responsibility of the British Army. However since then, responsibility has been with the Police. The Police Border District permanently stations the Field Patrol Detachment (FPD) of four companies on the border. Along the coast line, responsibility was shared between the Royal Navy and the Marine Police. Along the land border, there are two fences - one is rapidly falling into disrepair and is no barrier. The second stands some 15 feet high topped by many strands of barbed wire. Running through the high tensile steel mesh is a trembler wire that detects vibrations from attempts to cut through. At intervals along the border are Police Stations from which patrols are sent on foot, by bicycle and vehicle. The international border runs follows the course of the Shamchun river with many small streams running into it. These streams run through culverts underneath the fence. On the western side of Hong Kong, the river is only some 100 metres wide with banks of thick mangrove. Here illegal immigrants (IIs) can swim across easily using anything that floats to catch the tide to the Hong Kong side.
The Volunteers manned the Border for a week or more each year for some years, taking over from the Regular Army prior to 1991 and the Police thereafter. These anti-II operations provided a perfect training vehicle for the Regiment. The key techniques were Observation Posts (OPs), ambushes and Quick Reaction Forces(QRFs). The IIs are very wary and being usually young and fit; they run very fast. These techniques are also the key techniques for a reconnaissance regiment. Add to this an unscripted and unarmed "enemy" and there was the perfect training environment. Of course there was much rivalry between the squadrons which added some spice to the operation.
When caught, the Ils were held by the Volunteers for no longer than 60 minutes before they were handed over to the nearest Police Station. After some brief documentation, they were returned to China within 72 hours of capture. Some IIs were caught working in light engineering premises and farms. The penalties for being caught for both II and employer are stiff. The II is likely to be imprisoned for some months and the employer is liable to a heavy fine. Nevertheless the temptation to come to Hong Kong to look for work is very powerful. An II can expect to earn in one day in Hong Kong what would take him 6 weeks to earn in the more rural areas of China. Not all come for economic reasons. Many women are caught in the last stages of pregnancy. A child born in Hong Kong has rights to live here. While the mother will be deported with the child as soon as they are fit to travel, the child may return once has he or she has grown up.
Over the last three years prior to disbandment, the Volunteers caught an average of 100 IIs during each of the anti-II camps. Fit young male IIs got little sympathy, but pregnant women, old men and teenage boys and girls are the more tragic side of the story. It is unlikely that attempts to cross into Hong Kong will end in 1997. The lure of the Hong Kong dollar will surely remain just as strong for the foreseeable future.