Vietnamese Refugees
in Hong Kong

Prepared for internet by Vietnamese Missionaries in Taiwan

Closure of
Hong Kong's last Vietnamese refugee camp
ends 25-year 'boat people' saga

Hong Kong - (AFP May 29, 2000) - The closing of the last Vietnamese Refugee camp here on Wednesday May 31, 2000 will finally bring down the curtain on a drama spanning 25 years, leaving behind memories many would rather forget.

 When the gates close at midnight May 31, 2000, the Pillar Point refugee camp in Tuen Mun, in Hong Kong's southwestern New Territories, will bo no more, officially ending the long-running Vietnamese refugee saga.

 More than 200,000 Vietnamese refugees arrived by boatload in Hong Kong during the late '70s and '80s, after communist North Vietnam defeated the U.S. backed South in 1975.

 The decision to close the camp has brought mixed reactions, with the government calling it a "humanitarian solution" to integrate the remaining 1,000 refugees into mainstream Hong Kong.

 As an open camp, Pillar Point refugees were largely permitted to come and go as they pleased.

 But some refugees say they would rather stay in the camp, with high Hong Kong rents, rather than camp affinity being the main reason.

 "My husband (a road worker) only gets 10 days' work a month," Dai Ting Nan, 22, told AFP. "That equates to around 5,000 dollars a month (US$643).

 "Monthly rent is no lower than HK$2,000 for a two bedroom flat.

 "If I could afford to move, do you think I would still be here? I have a baby to look after and I can't afford a nanny."

 Why just days to go before the camp closes, many of the refugees claim not have to have found alternative accommodation.

 Brenda Ku, a supervisor with Caritas Hong Kong, the Roman Catholic charity responsible for the running of Pillar Point, said those needing financial help had been referred to the social welfare department.

 "Those refugees that have chosen not to move out have done so not because of financial problems, but because they are waiting for a better rental deal," said Ku.

 Han Hin Kun, 20, who made the tortuous boat journey as an eight year old after his mother sacrificed her wedding ring to finance the trip, disagrees.

 "I am the only one who works. My dad has been in jail for a year and my mother looks after my three younger sisters and brother," he said.

 As a construction worker, work is sporadic, and his pay for a three 10 day working month fluctuates between 1,500 and 7,000 Hong Kong dollars.

 "How can we live on that? The Hong Kong government have ignored us. We will end up on the streets," Kun said.

 The refugees are required to make their own rental arrangements with an estate agent, pay the first month's deposit and show the deposit receipt to the social welfare department which then arranges for all payments to be paid accordingly.

 "This is the only way we can be sure what the monthly rent is," Ku explained.

 Many refugees, however, claim they cannot even afford this initial payment.

 With monthly rents for the smallest one bedroom flats starting from HK$1,000 and average pay of around HK$500 for a day's work, it would appear the families will have difficulties making ends meet.

 The camp closure follows a decision in March 2000 by the Hong Kong government's Executive Council to issue temporary identity cards to the remaining refugees, allowing them to resettle in the territory, following unsuccessful efforts to resettle them abroad.

 "There are about 60 refugees in the camp who have refused to joint the scheme. They have this dream that they would like to emigrate to other countries, although this is very slim due to many having either criminal records or drug-related problems," said Ku.

 The Hong Kong identity card brings with it a dilemma for the refugees. Without it they will continue to be classified as refugees, thereby having no entitlement to government aid. By accepting it, they forego any hopes of being resettled elsewhere.

 "The ID card makes no difference to me whatsoever. If I don't take the card, I hope this will force them to send me back to Vietnam," said Vu Ting Sing, 21.

 Although many of the refugees speak exellent Cantonese, the main Hong Kong Chinese dialect, their status as unskilled workers makes it difficult to obtain regular work.

 "We are not educated, so when employers want us to read and write Chinese, many of us are unable to do so," said Dai Ting Nan.

 Hong Kong authorities have spent 1.16 billion Hong Kong dollars since 1989 to accommodate the more than 200,000 Vietnamese refugees who arrvived in the territory.

 The U.N. High Commission for Refugees has helped resettle more than 143,000 of them since 1975, mainly in the United States and Australia. Resettlement figures have been steadily declining in the past decade, dropping from 7,600 in 1990 to just 70 in 1999.

 At the height of Hong Kong's boat people crisis in 1991, there were more than 64,300 asylum-seekers in cramped detention centers.

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