Hong Kong - (AFP June 14, 1999) - Hong Kong police used tear gas to put down a riot in a camp for Vietnamese refugees which saw buildings fire-bombed and at least 17 people injured, police said Monday (June 14,1999).
Some 200 Vietnamese sought protection at a police station near the Pillar Point camp saying they feared attacks by fellow refugees. And the violence again cast the spotlight on the problem of what to do with remaining Vietnamese left over from the boat people crisis of the 1980s.
Police in riot gear battled for more than a hour to quell a brawl between hundreds of refugees at the camp late Sunday (13/06/99).
They eventually fired four canisters of tear gas to stop the fighting. Four Vietnamese were arrested and police said they found about 17 kinds of home-made weapons in a search of the camp.
Eleven of the 17 injured including a nine month-old baby were hospitalized.
Camp residents insisted that Pillar Point had been taken over by crime syndicates who were creating the unrest.
One Vietnamese refugee claimed inhabitants were forced to pay up to 300 Hong Kong dollars (US$39) a month protection money to former refugees in the camp.
Timothy Tong, the Hong Kong government deputy security secretary, told a press conference on Monday that order had been restored at the camp.
Tong said several measures were needed to improve conditions at the camp. One was to increase contacts between the camp management and residents and better integrating the Vietnamese into Hong Kong society.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) has told the authorities that the chances of remaining refugees resettling in third countries was becoming "more dificult."
The UNHCR is also grappling with the problem of around 500 mostly ethnic Chinese people, who have not been granted refugee status and whom Vietnam has refused to accept.
Press reports said camp residents blamed drug addicts for causing trouble.
They said organized syndicates controlled prostitution, gambling and drugs. There is also long standing rivalry between north and south Vietnamese in the camp.
Pillar Point, an open camp managed by the social welfare group Caritas, houses some 1,500 people, of whom more than 900 were awaiting resettlement in other countries, while the rest awaited repatriation to Vietnam.
Hong Kong authorities spent more than US$150 million since 1989 to find accommodation for more than 200,000 Vietnamese refugees who arrived by the boatload during the late 1970s and 1980s.
At Beijing's insistence most of the boat people were repatriated to Vietnam, many forcibly, before Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule in July 1997.
(From The China Post, Tuesday June 15, 1999)