Boat people battle leaves 195 hurt

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The Independent Online

in Hong Kong

The Hong Kong security services faced unprecedented resistance over the weekend from Vietnamese boat people who feared that a transfer to a new detention centre was a prelude to deportation.

The operation to move 1,500 inmates ended yesterday after a day-long battle that left a reported 195 people injured.

The government, which has previously issued grossly misleading estimates of the number of Vietnamese injured, said that 168 of those hurt were members of the security forces. It acknowledged, however, that the most seriously injured person was a one-year-old girl who is ``in satisfactory condition''.

The authorities say police and prison officers were attacked with spears, stones and firebombs.

In response some 2,000 officers, most in full riot gear, rained down a hail of 800 rounds of tear-gas on the boat people.

Yesterday a group of lawyers affiliated with the Refugee Concern pressure group presented a petition to the Governor, Chris Patten, urging him to end the use of tear-gas in the camps. ``Someone is going to be killed if the government maintains its stance,'' said Peter Barnes, a member of the group.

Brian Bresnihan, the government's refugee co-ordinator, said the officers had ``acted with commendable bravery and restraint''.

A spokeswoman from the prisons department said the occasion was the first in which the entire population of the Whitehead detention centre - about 11,500 men, women and children - had been mobilised to resist the authorities.

Although the government denies it, the Vietnamese believe the move from Whitehead to the more isolated High Island detention centre is part of a plan to speed up the deportation of those who have failed to secure refugee status.

China has made it clear that all the 23,251 Vietnamese boat people in Hong Kong must be out of the territory by 1 July 1997, when it resumes sovereignty of the British colony. Only 1,659 of this number have gained refugee status.