The first group of Vietnamese boat people to be repatriated voluntarily from Hong Kong flew into Hanoi today, some saying they were happy to be back but many looking apprehensive.
Blinking nervously in the glare of television lights as they were greeted by Vietnamese officials and Western diplomats, 75 people clambered out of the chartered Boeing 737 airliner that brought them back.
The repatriation took place under an agreement hammered out between Hong Kong, Britain, Vietnam and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
One of the first to step off the plane was Le Van Dieng, who said, “I am happy to be back in my homeland.” But he refused to say why he left in the first place.
One teen-age girl with a modern hair-style and new denims burst into tears as uniformed immigration officials hurried her into the arrival lounge.
Nguyen Minh Hai, from the port of Haiphong, said he was the engineer on a fishing boat hijacked by refugees. “I was kidnaped,” he said.
Mai, a pretty 17-year-old, clutched a bunch of flowers with which to greet her 42-year-old aunt, a Hanoi restaurant manager.
“She went out to see some friends about nine months ago and never came back. When we heard she had left by boat, we thought they were joking,” the aunt said.
Under the scheme, any of the 25,000 boat people jamming camps in Hong Kong and another 25,000 scattered around other Asian countries can return home voluntarily under U.N. protection.
The boat people were to be briefed and taken to a transit camp about six miles from Hanoi airport, Hanoi Radio said.
The Hong Kong government hopes the successful repatriation of the first group will persuade other boat people to return home from the colony’s overcrowded camps.
Under the agreement, Hanoi promised not to prosecute its returning citizens and to allow the international organization to monitor their treatment back home.
Returning adults received $50 and their children $25 from the U.N. agency, and other unspecified assistance will be offered.
The U.N. agency vowed to closely monitor the fate of boat people who return home.
“I would tend to say if too many of them get into trouble, it will be known,” said Alexander Casella, one of the two U.N. officials on the flight.