Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2)903
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref. : CB2/PL/SE/1

Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Security

Minutes of Special Meeting
held on Thursday, 8 January 1998 at 2:45 pm
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon CHENG Kai-nam (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Allen LEE, JP
Hon MA Fung-kwok

HonAndrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
HonKennedy WONG Ying-ho
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon IP Kwok-him
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon KAN Fook-yee
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Member attending :

Hon WONG Siu-yee

Members absent :

Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP (Chairman) ] away from HK
HonMrs Elsie TU, GBM ]
HonHenry WU ]
HonCHEUNG Hon-chung ]
HonHUI Yin-fat, JP ] other commitments
HonCHAN Choi-hi ]
HonBruce LIU Sing-lee ]

Public Officers attending :

Mr Peter LAI, JP
Secretary for Security

Ms Sally WONG
Deputy Secretary for Security 3

Law Officer, Civil Law Department of Justice

Assistant Director of Immigration

Clerk in attendance :

Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 1

Staff in attendance :

Mr Jimmy MA
Legal Adviser

Miss Salumi CHAN
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 1

Miss Betty MA
Senior Assistant Secretary (3) 2

1.As the Chairman was away from Hong Kong, the Deputy Chairman took the chair.

I.Briefing by the Administration on "Vietnamese refugees/ Vietnamese migrants/Vietnamese illegal immigrants : The way forward"

Opening remarks by the Deputy Chairman

2.The Deputy Chairman remarked that the special meeting was held for the Administration to brief members on the way forward on the issues of Vietnamese Refugees(VRs) /Vietnamese Migrants(VMs) /Vietnamese Illegal Immigrants (VIIs).

Briefing by the Secretary for Security

3.Secretary for Security advised that the Security Bureau had just completed a review of the overall policy on VRs/VMs/VIIs and that the Chief Executive had ordered, on the advice of the Executive Council, that the package of measures detailed in the following two Provisional Legislative Council (PLC) Briefs be adopted :

  1. PLC Brief on VRs/VMs/VIIs : The Way Forward ; and

  2. PLC Brief on Immigration (Amendment) Bill 1998.

(Post-meeting note : The two PLC Briefs were issued to all PLC Members on 8 January 1998.)

4.Secretary for Security briefed members on the PLC Brief on VRs/VMs/VIIs : The Way Forward. In particular, he highlighted that the Administration had decided to abolish the port of first asylum policy, having regard to the changed circumstances in Vietnam, the fact that the Comprehensive Plan of Action had formally ended on 30 June 1996 as agreed by the international community, and the public support for scrapping the policy. To give effect to this change of policy, the Immigration (Amendment) Bill 1998 would be introduced to provide for :

  1. the disapplication of Part IIIA of the Immigration Ordinance so that its provisions enshrining the port of first asylum policy did not apply to new arrivals in Hong Kong. This provision would take effect as from the day on which the Bill was published in the Gazette, i.e. 9 January 1998 ; and

  2. the clarification of the powers of detention pending removal under section 32 of the Ordinance. The object was to add the detention powers and safeguards currently provided under Part IIIA of the Ordinance to the general detention provisions under section 32 of the Ordinance.


Abolition of the port of first asylum policy

5.Members supported the Administration's decision to abolish the port of first asylum policy. However, they were concerned about the follow-up action to be taken by the Administration to resolve the VR/VM/VII problem. The relevant discussions are summarized in paragraphs 7 to 17.

6.Mr Andrew WONG asked whether the decision on abolition of the policy fell within the jurisdiction of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government (HKSARG) or China's foreign affairs. Secretary for Security pointed out that in accordance with Article 154 of the Basic Law, " The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may apply immigration controls on entry into, stay in and departure from the Region by persons from foreign states and regions." The decision on abolition of the policy and the introduction of the relevant proposed legislative amendments were within the jurisdiction of the HKSARG.

VIIs coming to Hong Kong through the sea route

7.Mr Allen LEE considered that for those VIIs coming to Hong Kong through the sea route after the abolition of the port of first asylum policy, the Administration should refuse their entry by towing their boats out of Hong Kong waters. Indeed, some of the Asian countries, such as Singapore and Thailand, had adopted the same practice which proved to be very effective in deterring VIIs from entering their territories. Secretary for Security responded that the Administration considered this unacceptable in principle and unenforceable in practice. In fact, over 90% of the VIIs were intercepted on land. For those intercepted in Hong Kong waters, they came in tiny and leaky boats. It would be inhumane to force such boats out of Hong Kong waters. Moreover, this would place Hong Kong under international condemnation with little practical gain. It was not worth to do so.

8.Mr IP Kwok-him stated that the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong was against the proposal to tow VII boats out of Hong Kong waters.

VIIs coming to Hong Kong through the land route

9.Mr Allen LEE considered that after the abolition of the port of first asylum policy, those VIIs coming to Hong Kong through the land route should be treated the same as illegal immigrants from the Mainland or other countries, and repatriated to their place of origin upon arrest. Secretary for Security advised that all VIIs, irrespective of whether they had entered Hong Kong through the sea or land route, would be handled in the same manner. Their personal particulars would be forwarded to the Vietnamese Government for clearance and those who had been cleared would be repatriated to Vietnam. At present, the major obstacle to the speedy repatriation of VIIs was the long time taken for the clearance process. To help improve the situation, the Administration would be proposing to the Vietnamese Government a new mechanism whereby all VIIs coming to Hong Kong would be repatriated immediately after arrest. The verification of their nationality and household registration would take place in a holding centre in Vietnam.

10.Mr Allen LEE considered that if the previous procedures involved in the repatriation of VIIs still applied, the port of first asylum policy was abolished in name only. Mr LAU Kong-wah shared his view. Secretary for Security pointed out that repatriation of VIIs upon arrest would only be feasible with the agreement of the Vietnamese Government. Members were concerned about the time required to secure such an agreement and that in the interim, the previous problems such as slow repatriation still existed. Responding to Mr LAU Kong-wah, Secretary for Security considered it impossible to give a deadline for completing the negotiation process with the Vietnamese Government. However, he appreciated the concern of Members on the subject and undertook to report to the Panel on any further developments in due course. Adm

Repatriation of VIIs through the Mainland

11.Responding to Mr Howard YOUNG, Secretary for Security advised that as far as he knew, there was no formal agreement between the Mainland and Vietnam on repatriation of VIIs in the Mainland though in practice, some of them had been repatriated through the border between the two countries. The Administration had discussed with the Mainland authorities on the feasibility of repatriating VIIs from Hong Kong through the Mainland to Vietnam. The Mainland authorities considered this not feasible.

Status of VRs and their children in Hong Kong

12.Responding to Mr IP Kwok-him, Secretary for Security advised that the refugee status of VRs being stranded in Hong Kong and their children would not be changed except under very special circumstances. Same as other persons, their eligibility for acquiring permanent resident status in Hong Kong would depend on whether or not they fulfilled the relevant requirements of the Immigration Ordinance. It seemed unlikely that they would fulfill the relevant requirements.

13.The Deputy Chairman noted from paragraph 11 of the PLC Brief that the VRs would be encouraged to lead a more normal life and be self-reliant as far as possible. He said that this might give the public and the international community the impression that the VRs were accepted to stay in Hong Kong. Secretary for Security clarified that the Administration still aimed at resolving the VR problem by pressing UNHCR to arrange their resettlement. As this would be a long drawn out process, the Administration considered that while waiting for resettlement overseas, they should be encouraged to be self-reliant as far as possible and not be given so much special treatment as before.


14.Responding to Mr IP Kwok-him, Secretary for Security explained that all along, the expenditures incurred by the Administration on behalf of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had been charged to an advance account by the authority of the Financial Secretary under section 20 of the Public Finance Ordinance. In view of the fact that UNHCR was confronted with massive refugee problems around the world and was unable to raise funds for all of its programmes, the Administration considered it prudent to discontinue with the advance account arrangement. Instead, the Administration would allocate resources of its own for the care and maintenance of VMs in Hong Kong. As the number of VMs in Hong Kong was decreasing, it was estimated that the Administration would have to incur a monthly expenditure of about $ 30,000.

15.Responding to Mr Ambrose LAU, Secretary for Security advised that in a statement of understanding, UNHCR had stated that it would repay its debt to Hong Kong, subject to availability of funds. The Administration would continue to urge UNHCR to raise funds to settle the outstanding amount and would press them to do so through the Central Government. Moreover, the Chief Executive had also written to UNHCR on this subject.

Moral obligation of the British Government

16.Members considered that the British Government should have the moral obligation to assist in resolving the VR/VM problem in Hong Kong. Responding to members, Secretary for Security pointed out that as stated in the Chief Executive's Policy Address delivered in October 1997, the Administration would continue to urge the British Government to discharge its moral obligation to assist in reaching a solution to the problem. Indeed, the Administration had done so on various occasions. For example, the Chief Executive had, during his visit to London in October 1997, urged the British Government to take more VRs from Hong Kong and to lobby other resettlement countries in this regard. So far, the British Government had responded that as it no longer had the sovereignty over Hong Kong, it had no obligation to resolve the problem. However, it would try its best to assist, such as by discussing with the Vietnamese Government at diplomatic level and by accepting more VRs for resettlement. In fact, it had accepted a total of 65 VRs from Hong Kong in 1997 and was considering another 50 cases. The British Government had also stated that it would see if anything could be done under its foreign aid policy to help improve the economic situation in Vietnam so that less Vietnamese would be coming to Hong Kong illegally to seek employment.

17. Mr WONG Siu-yee considered that the Administration should add to the list of measures to be taken in dealing with the problems relating to VRs/VMs/VIIs in paragraph 38 of the PLC Brief that it would continue to urge the British Government to discharge its moral obligation. Mr KAN Fook-yee supported his view. Secretary for Security reiterated that the Administration would continue its liaison work with the British Government in this regard.

II.Close of meeting

18.The meeting ended at 3:45 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
15 January 1998