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Refugee News                       July 1997
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The last boat people leave Hong Kong More information
On May 28, 245 of the few remaining Vietnamese boat-people left Hong Kong on special flights back home. These flights, organized by the United Nations agency for refugees, UNHCR, are gradually bringing to the end a saga which begun with the fall of Saigon in 1975. 

Thousands fled on small boats. Those who survived the trip landed on the shores of South-East Asia. Large numbers ended up in detention camps in Honk Kong. Others arrived in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore. Altogether two and a half million refugees left Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. 

The Chinese government, that will regain control of Hong Kong on July 1, has made it very clear that the camps must be empty by that time. Hong Kong residents and politicians are happy with this stand. The refugees have been a burden and they are not Chinese like the refugees from the mainland that form a substantial part of the territory's population. Members of the Legislative Assembly have asked the British government to assume responsibility for all Vietnamese remaining in Hong Kong after the hand over. 

These 245 former boat-people left Hong Kong voluntarily as have done 57,000 others since 1989. Officially, the government of Vietnam welcomes them home but the attitude towards them of former neighbours and potential employers can be a problem. UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations that helped the refugees in the camps are now participating in the re-settlement program back home. 

However, not all boat-people want to go back. During the last week of May, 181 Vietnamese were repatriated against their wishes. From 1991 about 10,000 people have been declared illegal immigrants and expelled forcibly. There are still 1,465 illegal immigrants in Hong Kong. 

The process of selecting genuine refugees from economic immigrants has created a lot of problems. Individuals marked for expulsion were wining appeals up to a few days before they were due for forced repatriation. 

The number of people leaving Vietnam to escape poverty rather than human rights abuses increased dramatically in the late 80's with many coming from North rather than South Vietnam. Even the attitude of the international community changed. The first wave of boat-people in the Seventies were seen by the West as heroes escaping Communism. With the worldwide fall of Communism came the second wave of boat-people who were now considered illegal immigrants! 

There are also refugees that Vietnam does not want back. These include people with a criminal record and about 2,000 that are Chinese rather than Vietnamese in origin. 

Yet another problem concerns 1,382 boat-people who were declared genuine refugees but have not been accepted for settlement in any country. Many of them have problems related to health, drug abuse or criminality. During a meeting held in Geneva in May, the United States, Britain Sweden and France agreed to take some of these refugees. In the U.S. there are about a million Vietnamese. 

For those boat-people who remain in the camps, conditions are getting from bad to worse. In a report issued in New York last march, Human Rights Watch (Asia) appealed for an end to measures which the authorities were using to coerce the residents into agreeing to leave. Among these measures are a reduction in the amount of food and decreased medical care. 


China wants boat people out - but they keep on coming 

Boat people "in designer shirts" 

UNHCR - information on: 
Hong Kong 

Refugee News: More about Vietnam