LegCo Paper No.CB(2) 503/96-97
Ref : CB2/PL/SE/1
LegCo Panel on Security
Minutes of Meeting held on Monday, 30 September 1996 at 2:30 p.m.in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building
Members Present :
Hon James TO Kun-sun (Chairman)Members Attending :
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, OBE, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon CHAN Kam-lam
Hon IP Kwok-him
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok
Hon LAW Chi-kwong
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
Hon TSANG Kin-shing
Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hongMembers Absent :
Hon Fred LI Wah-ming*Public Officers Attending:
Agenda Item I
Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin*
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo*
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung*
Hon Albert HO Chun-yan*
Hon LO Suk-ching*
Hon Margaret NG*
Hon Lawrence YUM Sin-ling*
Agenda Item II
- Mr B J BRESNIHAN, MBE, JP
- Refugee Co-ordinator
- Mr J CUNNINGHAM, CPM
- Assistant Commissioner of Police, Operation
- Miss Bonnie WONG
- Assistant Commissioner (Vietnamese Migrants)
Correctional Services Department
Staff in Attendance :
- Mr Alex FONG
- Deputy Secretary for Security 2
- Mr T P WONG
- Assistant Director (Special Duties)
Clerk in Attendance :
- Mrs Sharon TONG
- Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 1
- Miss Salumi CHAN
- Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 1
Report on Closure of Tai A Chau Detention Centre and Progress of the Repatriation of Vietnamese Migrants
(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 2208/95-96)
(Appendix 1 to LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 2209/95-96)
(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 2232/95-96)
Closure of Tai A Chau Detention Centre
1. Members noted from the Administrations information paper that a total of 5,465 Vietnamese Migrants (VMs) had been transferred from Tai A Chau Detention Centre (TACDC) to Whitehead Detention Centre (WHDC) on 12, 16 to 25 September and that, there was no untoward incident or use of force throughout the operation.
2. In response to Mrs Selina CHOWs enquiry, Miss Bonnie WONG advised that so far, the Administration had not received any formal complaints about the condition in WHDC from the VMs concerned. However, given that the facilities in WHDC compared less favourably with those in TACDC and the surveillance in the former camp was higher, it was understandable that the VMs might have a feeling of unease about their new environment.
Progress of the Repatriation of Vietnamese Migrants
Report tabled by Mrs Selina CHOW
3. Members noted the report tabled by Mrs Selina CHOW on her recent visit to Hanoi. The purpose of the visit was to see what actually happened to boat people who returned to Vietnam and to discuss with the Vietnamese officials on what could be done to expedite repatriation of the remaining boat people in Hong Kong.
[Post-meeting note : The report was circulated to absent members after the meeting under LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 2232/95-96.]
Pace of repatriation
4. Mr BRESNIHAN advised that as at 27 September 1996, there were 11,918 VMs in Hong Kong. Since May 1996, the Orderly Repatriation Programme (ORP) had been accelerated to 600 to 700 per month. This was matched by another 600 to 700 volunteers, thus giving a total of about 1,300 to 1,400 returnees per month. If the monthly repatriation figures were maintained at this level, it should be possible to clear the camps before 1 July 1997. Nevertheless, the Administration would further accelerate the pace of ORP with effect from October 1996 by increasing the number of returnees from 600 to 1,000 per month.
5. Members noted from the first paragraph of the Administrations information paper that the monthly figures for voluntary repatriation had been decreasing since June 1996. They considered that the Administration should further step up the pace of ORP. Mr BRESNIHAN advised that this year, the Administration had already considerably stepped up orderly repatriation. By further increasing the number of returnees through the ORP to 1,000 per month with effect from October, the Administration was certain that at least that number would be repatriated. However, the effect of this increase on the rate of volunteering was unknown. The Administration hoped that the VMs would have no further illusion about its detemination to resolve the VM problem and that more VMs would volunteer to go back to Vietnam. If by the end of the year, the monthly figures for voluntary repatriation were falling, the Administration would review its plan so as to resolve the problem as soon as possible.
6. In response to further questions from members, Mr BRESNIHAN pointed that the ORP imposed an enormous demand on the resources of the Police and Correctional Services Department. Mr CUNNINGHAM advised that for an ORP, the Police normally deployed a company of the Police Tactical Unit, involving 170 men and some females.
4,000/5,000 VMs awaiting clearance
7. In response to Mrs Selina CHOWs enquiry, Mr BRESNIHAN confirmed that out of the 11,918 VMs in Hong Kong, 4,000 had still not received clearance from the Vietnamese authorities for return to Vietnam. In addition, there were about 1,000 who, although themselves had been cleared, had family members still awaiting clearance. These 1,000 VMs, in accordance with the existing non-splitting of family policy, could not be repatriated. As such, there were about 5,000 VMs could not be repatriated at this stage. Mr BRESNIHAN assured members that the clearance of the VMs concerned was the subject of ongoing diplomatic exchange between the Hong Kong Government and the Vietnamese Government. Diplomatic exchange would continue with the objective of securing cooperation of the Vietnamese Government to expedite the processing of the to-be-cleared cases.
8. Mrs Selina CHOW asked whether the Administration had explored ways to simplify the cumbersome clearance procedures. For example, if the Vietnamese officials could come to Hong Kong to participate in the clearance process, it might save time in passing the information about the relevant VMs to and from Vietnam. Mr BRESNIHAN agreed that the current clearance procedures were cumbersome and time-consuming. However, the procedures were agreed at international meetings in March 1995. Mr BRESNIHAN doubted whether, at this late stage, the Administration would be successful in securing any major departure from those procedures. He also pointed out that before the procedures were introduced in March 1995, applicants for voluntary repatriation were interviewed and screened by Vietnamese immigration officers in Hong Kong. This gave individual migrants in some cases the opportunity to falsify information and therefore delay repatriation. He assured members that the Administration would explore every possible avenue with the Vietnamese Government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to speed up the clearance of the VMs concerned.
9. In response to Mr CHEUNG Man-kwongs enquiry, Mr BRESNIHAN said he could not confirm absolutely that the VMs had falsified information to avoid clearance for return to Vietnam but there was good reason to believe that some of them might have done so. The Administration was aware that there were problems in this area and would take the issue forward with the Vietnamese authorities.
10. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong was concerned, in case these VMs remained uncleared by 1 July 1997, whether they would become stateless and continue to stay in Hong Kong. Mr BRESNIHAN considered that clearly, the VMs concerned belonged to Vietnam. Out of the 4,000 who remained to be cleared, 3,000 were ethnic Vietnamese. The Vietnamese authorities were identifying their exact place of residence which was the required information before acceptance for return could be given. Mr BRESNIHAN said he would not like to speculate what would happen if not all of them were repatriated before 1 July 1997 but he could assure members that the Administration was seeking to resolve the problem with urgency.
11. In response to a further question from the Chairman, Mr BRESNIHAN advised that both China and Vietnam had the system of household registration. Regarding the repatriation of the Ex-China Vietnamese Illegal Immigrants (ECVIIs) to China, the Chinese authorities had to verify where the household registration was before they accepted the ECVIIs back. Then the Administration reached an agreement with China under which China agreed to take back all the ECVIIs in Hong Kong to a centre in Guangdong province and from that point to sort out where they exactly came from. This was a possible option that the Administration could explore with the Vietnamese authorities. Mr BRESNIHAN emphasized that this would mark a significant departure from the procedures which were applied from the very beginning. It seemed that the Vietnamese authorities wanted to be absolutely certain before they cleared anyone.
12. Mrs Selina CHOW and Ms Emily LAU considered it necessary for the Rt Hon Jeremy Hanley, the UK Minister of State, to further discuss with the Vietnamese Government on the problem of the uncleared VMs. Mr BRESNIHAN assured members that the UK Government was fully apprised of the problem, which was being taken forward at highest levels within the UK Government. For example, the UK Prime Minister had discussion with the Vietnamese authorities in March 1996. These high level contacts would continue.
Resettlement of the remaining Vietnamese refugees
13. Ms Emily LAU was concerned about the resettlement opportunities of the remaining 1,300 Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong before 1 July 1997. She pointed out that from the Government Houses recent reply to the Chairman of the House Committee (LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 2208/95-96), it was revealed that a total of 667 hard-core refugees had been settled by various countries from 1 April 1994 to 19 September 1996 from Pillar Point Vietnamese Refugee Camp. Out of the 667 hard-core refugees, the UK had accepted 162. Ms LAU considered that the UK should accept more.
14. Mr BRESNIHAN advised that since 1979, the UK had taken over 15,000 refugees from Hong Kong. This was a record only beaten by the United States and Canada. Since 1989 when a quota was imposed by the United Nations on resettlement countries, the UK had exceeded the quota by about 200. Regarding the hard-core refugees, the up-to-date figures revealed that a total of 673 had been settled by various countries since 1 April 1994. Out of this number, the UK had taken 168 and was the top of the lead of the 15 countries involved in this exercise. The UK would, in accordance with its immigration policy, continue to take refugees from Hong Kong on a family reunion basis.
15. In repsonse to a further question from Ms Emily LAU, Mr BRESNIHAN advised that the Administration together with the UNHCR would continue to do their best to secure the resettlement of the remaining refugees in Hong Kong. Moreover, discussion on the resolution of the problem would be taken forward by the UK Government with the Vietnamese authorities. He assured members that the UK Government was according this matter high priority.
New arrivals of Vietnamese migrants
16. In repsonse to Mr IP Kwok-hims enquiry, Mr BRESNIHAN advised that the number of arrivals of VMs in Hong Kong since January 1996 was 736. The figure was high but had not yet reached a crisis stage. The Administration had made representations to Hanoi on this problem and expressed concern.
17. Responding to the Chairman, Mr BRESNIHAN advised that the Adminstration had not identified any reason which prompted the newly arrived VMs to leave Vietnam. However, a majority of them came here for employment but not for asylum. As it was coming towards the end of the sailing season, it was hoped that the number of new arrivals would drop off towards the end of the year.
18. Given that there were less than nine months before the change of sovereignty in Hong Kong, members were gravely concerned about the slow pace of repatriation and the large number of VMs who had not been accepted for return. Members considered it critically important for the clearance process to be accelerated and for all VMs to be repatriated before 1 July 1997. After discussions, members agreed that the Panel would submit a report to the House Committee (HC) recommending the HC to write to the UK Government urging for :
- an early discussion with the Vietnamese Government on expediting the processing of the to-be-cleared cases and securing its cooperation for early repatriation of the remaining VMs in Hong Kong ; and
- its acceptance of as many Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong as possible and making of every effort to help expedite the resettlement of the remaining refugees to other countries.
[Post-meeting note : The HC considered the Panels report at its meeting on 4 October 1996 and supported the Panels recommendations as stated above. The Chairman of the HC then wrote to the UK Prime Minister on 9 October 1996.]
|19. The Chairman suggested to follow-up the subject in a few months time to keep track of developments.||Clerk|
II. Non-Chinese Ethnic Minorities
(LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 2153/95-96)
(Appendix 2 to LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 2209/95-96)
Briefing by the Administration
20. Mr Alex FONG advised that the Hong Kong Governments position on ethnic minorities was clear. It would continue to make the case for full British citizenship for the solely British ethnic minorities. The Prime Ministers guarantee of admission and settlement in the United Kingdom in the event of this group coming under pressure to leave Hong Kong after 1 July 1997 was an important step forward. The Administration had considered the Panels request of issuing a letter to individual members of the ethnic minorities stating the Prime Ministers assurance. To identify the recipients of the letter, the Administration would need to carry out a registration exercise for individual members of the ethnic minorities. In theory, if it were possible to advance a fair and effective registration exercise, the British Government would be able to identify ahead of time those eligible for the assurance. A fair and accurate assessment could make possible a more accurate estimate of the number of potential candidates who might apply to invoke the assurance. In practice, however, such a personal letter or registration exercise could not provide a definite assurance that individual members of the ethnic minorities would qualify for the guarantee given by the Prime Minister because :
- the guarantee of admission to and settlement in the UK was subject to an individual having come under pressure to leave Hong Kong after 1 July 1997. Not until then, it could not be confirmed whether an individual would satisfy this criterion ; and
- the UK Government had to be satisfied that the individual was solely British and held no other nationality at that point in time when he came under pressure to leave Hong Kong. Data produced by a registration exercise conducted before then would be unreliable as the individual might have acquired a foreign nationality after the registration exercise.
21. Mr Alex FONG also advised that the registration exercise in question would involve lengthy and complicated verification procedures. If no verification was carried out, false and unqualified claimants would swell the numbers significantly. Such an elaborate exercise would pose a heavy strain on the Immigration Departments already over-stretched resources. The Administration had considered the merits and demerits of the registration exercise and concluded that on balance, the registration exercise should not be conducted.
Discussions with the Administration
Registration exercise for the ethnic minorities
22. Members were very disappointed at the Administrations response. They were dissatisfied that the UK Government had first refused to introduce legislation to give the ethnic minorities British citizenship and then, refused to give them the same assurance as was set down in a letter from the Home Secretary to the wives and widows of Hong Kong ex-servicemen and then, even refused to issue a letter to individual members of the ethnic minorities concerned stating the Prime Ministers assurance and to carry out the registration exercise. Members found the reasons put forward by the Administration for not conducting the registration exercise unconvincing. They considered that the information produced by the registration exercise would be useful in :
- ascertaining the number of non-Chinese ethnic minorities who had no nationality other than British and, their identities ;
- facilitating the Administrations pursuit for British citizenship for the ethnic minorities, a goal which had the support of the Legislative Council Members and some Executive Council Members. The result of the exercise would help convince the UK Government and community that the number of ethnic minorities involved was small;
- providing assurance to the ethnic minorities concerned that they would be admitted to the UK for settlement if they satisfied the two criteria stated at para. 20 (a) and (b) above; and
- facilitating the UK Governments consideration of any applications for admission to the UK for settlement from the ethnic minorities concerned after 1 July 1997.
23. Mr Alex FONG considered that the issuance of the letter in question could not provide any definite assurance to the ethnic minorities because whether they would satisfy the two criteria stated at para. 20(a) and (b) above was unknown for the time being. Both the UK Government and the Hong Kong Government were of the view that the registration exercise should not be conducted, having regard to the fact that the exercise was labour intensive but could only bring limited benefits.
24. In response to some members queries, Mr T P WONG advised that in conducting the registration exercise, the Immigration Department (ID) would at least require the person concerned, for example, an Indian ethnic minority, to provide written evidence that he was not of Indian nationality. Having received the written evidence, the ID would check against its own record to see whether there was any information revealing that the person concerned was of Indian nationality or, the person concerned or his family members had declared any other nationalities or applied for migration to other countries. In case of the detection of any inconsistent information, the ID would have to verify with the relevant embassies. Past experience showed that the tasks involved were complicated and time-consuming.
25. In response to Mr Bruce LIUs enquiry, Mr T P WONG advised that if the registration exercise were to be completed within 6 months, the costs involved were estimated as follows :
|staff costs for about 57 officers : ||$15 million
|other costs (e.g. computer facilities) :|| $10 million
| Total : $25 million
26. After discussions, members maintained their view that the registration exercise for the ethnic minorities should be conducted and completed before 1 July 1997. They urged the Administration to start the exercise as soon as possible.
The Administrations action plan
27. Members considered that apart from conducting the registration exercise, the Administration should, at the same time, continue to make the case for British citizenship for the ethnic minorities. They noted from para. 2 of the Administrations information paper that it would continue to do so. However, they were concerned whether the Administration had any concrete plans for achieving the objective. Mr Alex FONG advised that the Administration would continue to pursue the matter by expressing its views to the UK Government through various channels.
|28. Ms Emily LAU said she would raise an oral question on the subject at the LegCo Sitting to be held on 9 October 1996. She requested the Secretary for Security to advise members, in his reply, on the Administrations action plan for the coming few months. Mr Alex FONG undertook to convey Ms LAUs request to the Secretary for Security.||Adm|
|29. The Chairman pointed out that the problem had dragged on for a long time and yet there was little progress in resolving it. He urged the Administration to note members concern and dissatisfaction.||Adm|
30. After discussions, members agreed that the Panel would submit a report to the HC recommending the HC :
- to write to the Administration urging it to conduct and complete the registration exercise for the ethnic minorities before 1 July 1997; and
- to continue to pursue with the UK Government for granting full British citizenship to the ethnic minorities or at the very least, providing them the same assurance as set down in a letter from the Home Secretary to the wives and widows of Hong Kong ex-servicemen.
[Post-meeting note : The HC considered the Panels report at its meeting on 4 October 1996 and supported the Panels recommendations as stated above. The Chairman of the HC wrote to the Governor on 16 October 1996.]
31. Members also agreed that a letter be sent to the Indian Resources Group to seek their views on the subject.
[Post-meeting note : The Indian Resources Groups response dated 14 October 1996 was circulated to members under LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 184/96-97.]
32. The Chairman concluded that the Panel would consider the way forward when the Secretary for Securitys reply to the oral question to be raised by Ms Emily LAU at the LegCo Sitting on 9 October 1996 was available.
III. Close of Meeting
33. The meeting ended at 4 : 20 p.m.
11 November 1996
*-- other commitments
Last Updated on 21 Aug, 1998