The Government has decided to widen a local resettlement scheme for Vietnamese refugees to allow 1 400 Vietnamese to apply for settlement in Hong Kong in order to tackle the residual problems of Vietnamese Refugees (VRs) and Vietnamese Migrants (VMs), the Secretary for Security, Mrs Regina Ip, said today (Tuesday).
She was speaking at a press conference to announce details of a plan endorsed by the Chief Executive-in-Council this morning to integrate the Vietnamese into the local community.
The Local Resettlement Scheme was introduced in 1986 to provide an opportunity for a limited number of VRs to settle in Hong Kong. Under the widened scheme, all 973 VRs stranded in Hong Kong, 327 "non-national" VMs and their 108 family members will be eligible to apply for settlement here. Successful applicants will be allowed to stay and be issued with a Hong Kong Identity Card.
Mrs Ip stressed that the widened scheme would not apply to Vietnamese Illegal Immigrants (VIIs). "We will continue to strictly enforce the present policy of promptly repatriating VIIs and guard against an illegal influx from Vietnam," she said.
Likewise, the widened scheme will not apply to the other 132 VMs whose repatriation has been held up because of various reasons such as ill-health and jail sentence. The Government will continue to repatriate them once the factors holding up their repatriation are removed.
Mrs Ip noted that strenuous efforts had been made by the Administration to look for resettlement opportunities for the VRs and repatriate the non-national VMs, but to no avail.
Since 1975, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has helped resettle more than 143 000 VRs overseas. However, resettlement figures have been on steady decline in the last decade, dropping from 7 600 in 1990 to 70 in 1999. Given the fact that many of them do not have relatives abroad and some have drug addiction problem or criminal record, it has become virtually impossible to resettle them.
As for the 327 VMs and their family members, the Vietnamese Government has refused to accept them, claiming that they are "non-nationals". Although the UNHCR has also approached third countries for resettlement opportunities for these VMs, the response was negative. As a result, most of them have been in Hong Kong for over 10 years with no prospect of being accepted elsewhere.
The Administration has seriously explored other options, including resettlement in the Mainland, voluntary return to Vietnam, and even revocation of their refugees status, but none is feasible.
"It has become clear that we have approached the end of this long drawn out process and the only effective and durable solution to the remaining problems lies in complete integration.
"Integration is a humanitarian solution, especially for the children of the VRs and VMs who were born in Hong Kong," Mrs Ip said, adding that allowing the problem to drag on would only aggravate the burden on Hong Kong.
At present, about 580 VRs and 430 VMs are living in the Pillar Point Vietnamese Refugees Centre (PPVRC), Tuen Mun, together with some 60 Ex-China Vietnamese (ECVs). The upkeep of the PPVRC costs $20 million a year. In January this year, funding from the UNHCR to share costs of running the camp has completely run out.
"Moreover, the existence of the PPVRC has created a host of problems such as drugs, violence and other crimes. It is also a stumbling block to our efforts to encourage VRs and VMs to lead a normal and self-reliant life," Mrs Ip explained.
As an integral part of the residence offer, the camp will be closed by the end of May this year. All residents of the camp will have to move out.
In fact, a sizable number (about 240 VRs and 90 VMs) have moved out of the PPVRC and are living in self-arranged accommodation. They have de facto integrated into society, working to support themselves. However, their refugee or migrant status often obstructs them in the course of finding accommodation or jobs.
PPVRC is an open centre currently managed by Caritas-Hong Kong. Active counselling and assistance in finding accommodation for the Vietnamese residents will be provided by Caritas prior to the closure of the centre.
Turning again to the VIIs, Mrs Ip said assistance had been sought from the Vietnamese Government and coastal provinces to dispel any rumours and stem any possible influx.
"There is no question of attracting a new wave of VIIs. The port of first asylum policy was scrapped in January 1998 and the relevant law disapplied since then. All VII arrivals are and will be promptly repatriated," she stressed.
In addition, Mrs Ip pointed out that there was evidence that the Millport policy, under which Vietnamese asylum seekers intercepted in boats in Hong Kong waters were assisted in their voluntary departure from Hong Kong, had been abused by VIIs who claimed innocent passage through Hong Kong to other destinations.
To curb the abuse, the policy will be terminated with immediate effect. All suspicious persons found loitering in Hong Kong waters without valid travel documents will be detained and questioned. If no satisfactory explanation can be given, they will be treated as illegal immigrants in accordance with existing legislation.
Mrs Ip added that litigations between some 350 Ex-China Vietnamese and the Government were still continuing, and the Government would closely monitor the development.
As regards the repayment of the outstanding advances to the UNHCR, which stands at $1.16 billion, Mrs Ip noted that the Administration had made repeated appeals to the UNHCR and the international community direct for donation on numerous occasions, but all these efforts had produced no result.
"We will continue with efforts to press the UNHCR for early repayment of the amount and appeal for donations," she said.
End/Tuesday, February 22, 2000