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The Expulsion of Undesirables Ordinance

Having surrendered his open border to London’s pressure for immigration controls, Grantham went to the other extreme. His government enacted the Expulsion of Undesirables Ordinance. This allowed the authorities to expel any ‘alien’ (i.e. not a British subject or protected person) with less than ten years of residence in Hong Kong found to be: an economic drain on the state or charitable organizations (especially if ‘diseased, maimed, blind, idiot, lunatic or decrepit’); a health risk; immoral (e.g. regarding prostitution); previously expelled from any other country; or ‘likely to promote sedition or to cause a disturbance’. The ordinance also allowed for the governor to create detainment camps as well as for any police officer (with a rank of sub-inspector or higher) to detain, by force if necessary, any suspected undesirables.50

While the ordinance was passed in September 1949, it was November before the Colonial Office, preoccupied with events in China, could evaluate the new law. The Colonial Office, according to Radford, agreed that Hong Kong should have ‘some rapid procedure for getting rid of the many undesirable Chinese who [...] now present serious problems’ but disapproved of the ordinance for its ‘arbitrary procedure’, such as its lack of required summons or right to counsel. Furthermore, according to Harold P. Hall, a principal in the Colonial Office’s Hong Kong and Pacific Department, the ordinance would easily be manipulated into ‘a good weapon for anti-Colonial propaganda’, especially given the recent ‘publicity about “Human Rights”’.51 Indeed, as the Soviet Union was becoming ‘a leading proponent of human rights’ from 1948, and as its NGOs began linking human rights with their anti-colonial campaigns, pressure only increased for British policy-makers to reform (or at least be perceived to reform) their colonial rule.52 The Expulsion of Undesirables Ordinance ran contrary to this.

As the fall of Canton in October 1949 did not prompt the forecasted refugee crisis, the Hong Kong government did not invoke the ordinance. In May 1950, however, Grantham warned that ‘the emergency [...] is virtually upon us’ as ‘those whom we are most anxious to exclude, namely destitutes, sick and other undesirables’ were flooding Hong Kong with, he alleged, the CCP’s support. Grantham therefore requested permission to use the Expulsion of Undesirables Ordinance.53

Despite its initial reservations against the principle of the ordinance, the Colonial Office now gave Grantham its support:

We think that action under the Ordinance now would not merely improve morale in Hong Kong, but would also strengthen the Governor’s hand by enabling him to reduce the ‘undesirable’ population among which the Communists are bound to foment trouble.

By December 1950, Grantham had implemented the ordinance ‘to reduce the swollen population [...] by all means possible’.54

As a result, the number of expulsions from Hong Kong rose, but only slightly, from 3,046 (before the ordinance) to 4,431 in 1950 (about 12 people per day). By 1952, however, this number fell to 1,096, mostly because China and Taiwan both stopped accepting deportees.55 It quickly became clear that deportation was not a long-term, viable solution to the ‘problem of people’ in Hong Kong’s Cold War.

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