‘Boat People’ Protest Hong Kong Expulsions
Thousands of Vietnamese “boat people” demonstrated Wednesday against the forced repatriation of 51 other refugees to Vietnam, but the Hong Kong government pledged to continue sending the unwanted immigrants home.
No violence was reported in the demonstrations in three refugee holding centers, a government spokeswoman said. She said 3,000 refugees in each of two camps and about 300 in a third holding center staged protests.
“They were just walking around, chanting and waving banners,” she said of the demonstrations. “There was no trouble.”
Refugees in one camp, however, told reporters they would forcibly resist future attempts to send them home.
Hong Kong’s chief secretary, David Ford, defended the involuntary repatriation of Vietnamese, saying the program will continue despite international criticism.
“It is our intention to put into place a continuing program to return to Vietnam all those who are judged not to be refugees,” Ford told the Legislative Council. His speech did not include a timetable for further repatriation.
In London, Foreign Office Minister Francis Maude said it could take as long as two years to return all the Vietnamese, classified as illegal immigrants. He said Britain cannot delay just because the deportations make other countries uncomfortable.
“It’s all very well for others to say to us, ‘Can’t you delay a little bit longer?’ but that plea has been made to us before,” Maude told a parliamentary committee.
Vietnam, in a commentary monitored in Bangkok, Thailand, said that economic embargoes imposed by non-Communist nations are partly to blame for the departure of its citizens.
“The policy of hostility and economic sanctions . . . by some countries against Vietnam over the past 10 years are one of the reasons causing economic difficulties in Vietnam,” it said. “This led to the fact that some people fled the country.”
About 44,000 Vietnamese who have sailed into Hong Kong since June, 1988, are considered illegal immigrants unless they can prove they fled their Communist homeland out of fear of persecution.
Nearly 6,800 have been denied refugee status after being screened by immigration officials, compared with 700 who qualified.
The first batch to be sent home against their will were taken from their detention center by riot police before dawn Tuesday and put on a plane to Hanoi. Vietnam has promised that the returnees will be treated humanely and not punished, Hong Kong says.
Hong Kong argues that returning the Vietnamese home is more humane than keeping them indefinitely in the camps, which are overcrowded and rife with violence and malnutrition.
But human rights organizations, British opposition politicians and the U.S. government have criticized the program. The State Department expressed regret over the repatriations and said, “British authorities should continue to grant asylum to all those persons from Vietnam who seek it.”
Ford responded that “those who have been loudest in their condemnation have been slowest in bringing forward practical alternatives. We have returned no one who in the eyes of the international community is a bona fide refugee.”
He added: “We do not look for the world’s applause, but we are entitled, I feel, to the world’s understanding.”
About 56,000 Vietnamese are housed in squalid camps. Those who arrived before June, 1988, were automatically granted refugee status and are eligible for resettlement.