LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL PANEL ON SECURITY
1. The purpose of this paper is to update Members on the present situation regarding Vietnamese migrants (VMs) and refugees (VRs).
2. As at the end of November, the VM population in the territory stood at 8,277. 13,084 VMs have been repatriated this year, 7,089 through the voluntary repatriation programme and 5,995 through the orderly repatriation programme. A total of 2,155 VMs were returned to Vietnam in November, the highest monthly figure since the Comprehensive Plan of Action was agreed in 1989. It is anticipated that at the end of the year, the VM population will stand at about 6,500.
3. In view of the declining VM population, the Administration has announced its intention of closing the Whitehead Detention Centre on 3 January, when the remaining VMs in that camp will be transferred to the High Island Detention Centre. However, parts of the Whitehead complex will continue to be used to accommodate 267 Ex-China Vietnamese illegal immigrants. There will also be an on-going requirement to retain the two voluntary repatriation centres and possibly the secure area, which may be needed to accommodate some VMs immediately prior to their return to Vietnam under the Orderly Repatriation Programme.
Clearance of Names
4. At the beginning of November, the British Foreign Secretary visited Vietnam. During separate discussions with the Vietnamese Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, he raised the question of the Vietnamese migrants (VMs) in the territory and, in particular, the problem of those who have not yet been cleared for return. The Foreign Secretary stressed that the early repatriation of VMs from Hong Kong was an important objective of the British Government. He strongly urged the Vietnamese Government to join others in redoubling their efforts to achieve this objective before the transfer of sovereignty.
5. The Vietnamese Governments reaction was both positive and flexible - they too expressed a clear wish to move ahead on the VM front. With regard to the non-nationals, the Vietnamese Government recognized there was a problem to which they wanted to find a solution; they told the Foreign Secretary that they were working on a number of ideas.
6. Since these meetings took place, the Vietnamese authorities have cleared about 900 VMs for return. The total number of VMs in the territory still awaiting clearance stands at just over 3,000.
7. 974 Vietnamese have arrived in the territory so far this year. The number of arrivals in November was 40, a considerable drop on the average monthly figure of 178 over the period July - October.
8. During technical talks in Hanoi on 10 October, we raised our concern about new arrivals with the Vietnamese side. They undertook to cooperate on stemming the exodus and to accelerate the pace of clearance of the new arrivals in the territory. The Vietnamese Government renewed their assurances of cooperation on this front during the recent visit of the British Foreign Secretary to Vietnam. Since then, the Vietnamese Prime Minister has issued instruction to ministries and local authorities directing them to take measures to stem the flow of departures from Vietnam.
9. Vietnamese migrants arriving illegally in the territory continue to be detained in detention centres pending repatriation. These arrangements reflect the requirements set out in the Immigration Ordinance and are considered appropriate for the time being. Apart from anything else, to detain these VMs in prisons like other illegal immigrants would place an intolerable burden on our already over-crowded penal system.
10. The current VR population stands at 1,307. The pace of resettlement has slowed down but 274 VRs have left the territory so far this year. 17 countries have accepted 703 VRs from the Pillar Point Refugee Centre (PPRC) since 1 April 1994. The United Kingdom has accepted 174, the highest number resettled by any individual country over this period. The UNHCR and the Government will continue to seek the cooperation of the international community in resettling the VRs remaining in the territory.
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11. There are about 700 VRs and 550 VMs resident in the PPRC. Of this population of 1,250, about 250 are suspected of being drug addicts. UNHCR funds the camp management to counsel and educate the residents on drug abuse. Drug rehabilitation referrals are made to Government methadone clinics, SARDA and St. Stephens Society.
12. PPRC lies within the Castle Peak Division area of the Tuen Mun Police District and it is covered by beat patrol officers, mobile patrols, Special Duty Squads and PTU duties as appropriate. As a result of enforcement action over the last six months, the following statistics are relevant :-
- No. of camp searches : 5
- No. of Vietnamese arrested inside PPRC : 31
- No. of Vietnamese arrested outside PPRC : 89
Privy Council Case
13. In the late 1970s, about 250,000 Vietnamese, almost all of whom were ethnic Chinese, fled from Vietnam to China where they were resettled. Over the years, some of this group, known as Ex-China Vietnamese illegal immigrants or ECVIIs, have entered Hong Kong illegally. It has been our policy to treat them as illegal immigrants and to repatriate them to China. Almost 20,000 ECVIIs have been repatriated in this way since 1979; there are currently 289 ECVIIs in the territory. In 1995, our policy of not according ECVIIs the same treatment as asylum seekers arriving from Vietnam was challenged in the courts. The High Court dismissed the action. An appeal against this decision was rejected by the Court of Appeal. The appellants then took the case on appeal to the Privy Council which, on 21 November, handed down judgement in their favour. The effect of this judgement is that we must now consider any claim for refugee status put forward by the ECVIIs involved in this case. We are still examining the implications of the judgement and how best to take it forward.
Last Updated on 21 August 1998