Hong Kong To Abolish Closed Camps
HONG KONG (AP) _ Hong Kong announced Tuesday it will open its Vietnamese refugee camps and allow thousands of Vietnamese boat people the right to work and leave the camps freely.
In a joint statement, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees also said it has agreed to monitor the screening of newly arrived Vietnamese boat people by the Hong Kong government to determine whether they are geninue refugees.
The screening procedures will be based on UNHCR’s guidelines, the statement said.
Under a new government policy which went into effect on June 16, all Vietnamese boat people arriving here are considered illegal immigrants unless they can prove they fled Vietnam because of persecution.
Those found to be illegal immigrants face repatriation to Vietnam.
The statement said the Hong Kong government has agreed to open up the closed camps within six months. Of the 25,000 Vietnamese boat people currently in Hong Kong, more than 12,000 are housed in six closed camps where they are not allowed to work or even leave the camps without special permission.
Another 9,500 Vietnamese, who arrived here after the screening policy was announced, are kept in a detention center. The center will remain closed.
The opening of the camps will mean that the refugees will be allowed to work and go to schools. The UNHCR will assume responsibility for the management of the new open camps, the statement said.
The closed camp policy was introduced in 1982 in a move to deter the influx of Vietnamese into this British colony.
The statement said the government will also shut down the controversial San Yick closed camp where more than 4,000 Vietnamese refugees are housed in a 12- story factory building. UNHCR officials have described the camp as unsuitable for human habitation.
The statement said UNHCR will continue to meet the cost of caring for the Vietnamese refugees in the colony.
In addition, the statement said, UNHCR will also launch an international appeal early next year to meet the capital cost of a new camp which the government plans to build in the colony.
The understanding was confirmed by Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security, Robert Upton, and UNHCR’s Charge de Mission in the colony, Fazlul Karim, the statement said.
Upton told reporters that the Hong Kong government was confident that Vietnamese boat people screened out as illegal immigrants will return to Vietnam voluntarily.
Hong Kong and Vietnamese officials earlier this year held a preliminary round of talks in Hanoi on the possibility of repatriating such people.
No agreement was reached and it was not known when another round of negotiations would be held.