LEGCO Paper No. CB(2)1108/95-96
(The minutes have been seen
by the Administration)
Ref : CB2/PL/SE

Minutes of Meeting of the LegCo Panel on Security

held on Monday, 18 March 1996 at 3:30 p.m.
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

    Hon James TO Kun-sun (Chairman)
    Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, OBE, JP (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing
    Hon CHAN Kam-lam
    Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
    Hon IP Kwok-him
    Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok
    Hon Lawrence YUM Sin-ling

Members Absent with Apologies :

    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong *
    Hon Fred LI Wah-ming *
    Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin *
    Hon HO Chun-yan *
    Hon Margaret NG *
    Hon TSANG Kin-shing #
    Hon Howard YOUNG, JP #
    Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung #
    Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee #
    Hon LAW Chi-kwong #
    Hon LO Suk-ching #

By invitation :

The Administration
Mr B J Bresnihan
Refugee Coordinator
Miss Bonnie WONG
Asst Commissioner (Vietnamese Migrants)

Staff In attendance :

Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Asst Secy (BC) 1
Miss Odelia LEUNG
Sr Asst Secy (BC) 1

I. Repatriation of Vietnamese Migrants (VMs)

Mr B J Bresnihan reported the outcome of the seventh meeting of the Steering Committee of the International Conference on Indo-Chinese Refugees (Steering Committee) held in Geneva on 5 and 6 March 1996 as follows :

(a) The Steering Committee reaffirmed unanimously that the only viable option for Vietnamese who had been determined to be non-refugees was return to Vietnam.

(b) The Steering Committee welcomed the announcement of the agreement reached between the United States and Vietnam on the possible arrangement for resettlement from Vietnam of non-refugees in the region who returned to their countries of origin.

(c) The meeting decided that the Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) should formally come to a conclusion by the end of June 1996. In the light of the large number of VMs left in the territory , special arrangements would be made for Hong Kong and UNHCR would remain in Hong Kong at least until the end of this year.

(d) The meeting noticed the large amount of money still owed to the Hong Kong Government and called upon donor countries to bear this amount in determining their share of contribution to CPA in response to a recent appeal for fund.

(e) The meeting asked for additional effort to be made to resettle the remaining refugees in the region.

2. Members were concerned if the seventh meeting had achieved any concrete results in resolving the Vietnamese problem in Hong Kong. Given that the sixth meeting of the Steering Committee held in March 1995 agreed that 3,600 non-refugees could be repatriated to Vietnam per month and of which 1,800 came from Hong Kong, Members enquired whether this target had been achieved, and whether the Administration had a time-table to repatriate all the VMs remained in Hong Kong.

3. In reply, Mr B J Bresnihan provided the following response :

(a) The reaffirmation by the international community of the principle that all non-refugees must go home was important. This principle was under attack last year. From the very beginning, Hong Kong had been depending on the international community to resolve the Vietnamese problem. The seventh meeting reintroduced certainty to what the Hong Kong Government had been doing.

(b) The key countries which were interested in the Vietnamese issue took part in the meeting. They included the US, Canada, Australia, the UK, Vietnam, China, France, Italy and a number of European countries. The Chinese Government was represented at the meeting and was aware of the problem and of the decisions reached at the meeting.

(c) The number of 3,600 or 1,800 was not the target set by the Steering Committee. It was the number of non-refugees that the Vietnamese Government had agreed to accept per month. Just under 1,000 Vietnamese had returned home under voluntary repatriation in February and March 1996. This compared favourably with the figure for the same period of last year which stood at about 700. About 300 VMs had been taken back home under the Orderly Repatriation Programme (ORP) since January 1996. A ORP flight was scheduled for the following day which would return another 114 non-refugees. The pace of ORP had been stepped up since October 1995. 60% of the camp population had been cleared for return.

(d) In past years the Administration, on occasion, did succeed in sending more than 1,800 Vietnamese per month. There had been technical talks with Vietnam at the end of February this year in which the Vietnamese Government reassured its continued cooperation. Recently the Vietnamese Government had agreed to accept 2,500 non-refugees per month. The Hong Kong Government would explore with the UNHCR on the means to get across the clear and sound message to the VMs which had been reaffirmed in the seventh meeting of the Steering Committee. The Administration remained hopeful to accelerate the pace of repatriation throughout this year.

(e) There were two constraints on the pace of repatriation, namely the degree of ORP accepted by the Vietnamese Government and the extent of ORP that could be mounted by the Hong Kong. Government. Hong Kong was committed to voluntary repatriation as the preferred means to resolve the problem. As such, there could not have a precise time-table in repatriation. ORP was aimed at promoting and encouraging voluntary repatriation and there was direct response to ORP. In February and March 1996, the interval between ORP flights had been reduced from six weeks to five weeks. It was envisaged that this could further be reduced by one more week in April. Members were reassured that the Administration was already sending the limit of non-refugees that could be accepted by the Vietnamese Government. The Administration would continue its effort to seek an increase in the pace of ORP.

4. On Miss Emily Lau’s question as to any progress made since the latest visit of the UK Prime Minister to Hong Kong, Mr B J Bresnihan said that an announcement would shortly be made on the visit of senior officials of the Foreign Office to Hanoi. Whilst it would be difficult to set down in public the objective of a foreign diplomatic exchange, it was expected that the visit would discuss in general terms on how to accelerate the return of the remaining VMs to Vietnam.

5. In reply to Mr Cheng Kar-foo’s question, Mr B J Bresnihan clarified that UNHCR would remain in Hong Kong at least until the end of this year. It did not mean that it would only stay until then. Since UNHCR appealed for fund on an annual basis, it would review the situation of Hong Kong at the end of this year. If the problem remained unresolved in 1997, the Administration did not expect that UNHCR would withdraw from Hong Kong.

6. Members were concerned that under the present pace of repatriation, it would be difficult to achieve the target to repatriate all Vietnamese in Hong Kong before the change of sovereignty. Members called on the Administration to accelerate the pace of repatriation and

map out a realistic time-table with the Vietnamese Government to repatriate all the remaining Vietnamese in Hong Kong and to get across this message to the officials of the Foreign Office who would be visiting Hanoi.

II. Hostage-Taking Incident

7. Members noted the information paper provided by the Administration on the hostage-taking incident occurred in the High Island Detention Centre on 6 March 1996 (Ref: Appendix to LP No. PL 1045/95-96).

8. Members were concerned about the security arrangements in detention centres, in particular the personal security of staff of the Correctional Services Department (CSD). Members raised whether any measures could be taken by the Administration to avoid the recurrence of similar incidents.

9. The response of Miss Bonnie WONG is summarised below.

(a) The detention and treatment of VMs were governed by the Immigration Ordinance (IO) (Cap. 115). Section 13D of the IO provided for the detention and screening of VMs. The rules providing for, inter alia, the treatment of the VMs were made under section 13H. The current policy required the detention centres for the VMs be managed in a closed community environment. The CSD had not been notified of any change to the management of the detention centres.

(b) It was the first time hostage-taking happened in detention centres. In anticipation of an impending transfer, there were in fact more staff on duty in the Centre at the time the incident occurred. The VMs broke out of the North Camp when the north gate of the Centre was opened to allow collection of food trolleys and empty buckets. The staff holding the key to the gate was taken hostage, probably as a means to ensure that the VMs who had dashed out could get back to the camp. In the Administration’s view, the hostage incident was not a contemplated act since the VMs were not making demands in a systematic manner.

(c) The staff of the detention centres were aware of and alert to the possibility of hostage-taking. Such a possibility could not be entirely ruled out so long as they had to have contacts with VMs. Whilst security was certainly important, the staff also had the duties to care for the VMs. The staff had been and would continue to be sensitive to the atmosphere in the camp to minimize the chance of recurrence of hostage-taking.

(d) Where there was evidence to believe that VMs might disrupt the orderly management of the detention centres, the IO empowered the removal of them to the Victoria Prison for management purposes. On 16 March 1996, 156 VMs had been transferred to the Victoria Prison. These included VMs believed to have been involved in the incident and VMs who had shown inclination to escape.

(e) CSD staff had already stepped up camp inspection to reduce the opportunity to make weapons by VMs. Daily necessities had suitably been adjusted to reduce the fatality of self-made weapons. Additional gates were installed to make it more difficult for VMs to escape. The Security Branch had allocated resources to improve the equipment to enhance security in detention centres.

10. In reply to Mrs Selina CHOW’s question as to the feasibility of arranging prompt repatriation of double-backers who were found to be trouble-makers, Mr B J Bresnihan said that of the 156 VMs transferred to the Victoria Prison on 16 March 1996, 129 were new arrivals. Many of them were double-backers. Mr Bresnihan agreed that in most cases double-backers were single men and more likely to cause trouble. An agreement with the Vietnamese Government had been in place under which all VMs arrived in the territory after 15 June 1995 would be returned. The ORP flight scheduled for the following day would return 50 such new arrivals.

11. The meeting ended at 4:35 p.m.

LegCo Secretariat
24 April 1996

* -- Away from Hong Kong
# -- Other Commitments

Last Updated on 21 Aug, 1998