Boat people deported despite fears

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The Independent Online
HONG KONG yesterday deported the largest single group of Vietnamese boat people since forcible repatriation began late last year. Among the 60 flown to Hanoi were members of Vietnam's Nung minority, who face persecution at home, according to a recent report by the American human rights group, Asia Watch.

The Hong Kong authorities said none of the group, the first to be sent back since Chris Patten became Governor last month, had resisted deportation. Brian Bresnihan, the colony's refugee co-ordinator, said: 'This was an encouraging sign that even non-volunteers are beginning to accept that their future lies in Vietnam, where they can start a normal life instead of languishing in detention centres in Hong Kong.'

Last weekend Asia Watch named 133 Nung people held in detention camps in Hong Kong and said they faced persecution if forcibly returned to Vietnam, where members of the ethnic minority had fought on the side of the French and later the Americans. They and other refugees who had engaged in political activity in the camps could be subjected to 'deprivation of their civil rights, police abuse, and forced labour', and some might even face the death sentence for alleged political crimes.

Mr Bresnihan said 16 of the people on Asia Watch's list had been deported yesterday, but added that there had been 'no report whatsoever' of any persecution in Vietnam. Another 24 of those named had returned willingly last year, and a further 30 had volunteered for repatriation.

Yesterday's flight was the fifth since Vietnam agreed last year to accept the forcible return of boat people 'screened out' as economic migrants rather than political refugees. Although just over 52,000 Vietnamese remain in the colony's camps, authorities believe that the end of the boat-people saga is in sight.

The deal with Hanoi, and the increasingly routine nature of the repatriations, have discouraged all but nine people from setting sail for Hong Kong this year, against 20,000 in 1991. The accelerating pace of returns has also prompted more boat people to volunteer to go home. Around half the camp inmates have been 'screened out', with only 3,186 declared genuine refugees, and the screening process for the rest is being speeded up, despite claims, repeated by Asia Watch, that it is already rushed and perfunctory.

(Photograph omitted)