HC Deb 18 November 1987 vol 122 cc1050-1
5. Mr. Alexander

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he has any further plans to relieve Hong Kong of the burden of Vietnamese refugees.

Mr. Eggar

We are pursuing our diplomatic campaign to urge other resettlement countries to do more to help Hong Kong. We are also discussing with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the main resettlement countries durable solutions to the Indo-Chinese refugee problem.

Mr. Alexander

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Are there not about 9,000 refugees in the Hong Kong camps, of whom about 2,000 only are likely to be settled this year? Bearing in mind that those who have been settled here have been no trouble and that this must be one of the most appalling tragedies of our time, would it be possible to relax the family relations criteria for settlers here and allow those without families here to come to settle?

Mr. Eggar

The world is suffering from the problem of refugees fleeing from Communist regimes. About 5 million refugees have had to leave, or felt forced to leave, Communist countries. With the specific problem of Hong Kong, the United Kingdom has a good record. We have accepted nearly 20,000 Indo-Chinese refugees since 1975, including about 13,000 Vietnamese refugees from Hong Kong. That is the third highest number of refugees accepted from Hong Kong. My hon. Friend knows that we announced in May that we would be prepared to take 468 further refugees from Hong Kong. I do not think that we can announce any further moves at present.

Sir Russell Johnston

Will the Minister accept that, with a resettlement rate of about 2,400 per annum and an inflow to August this year at a higher figure than that, we shall never get anywhere near a solution to the problem if we continue to approach it in the way in which it has been approached so far? Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that about 1,200 children in Hong Kong have never seen anything but the inside of a camp? Is this not a major disgrace, which the British Government, because of their responsibility for Hong Kong, have a special duty to act upon?

Mr. Eggar

I recognise the problem to which the hon. Gentleman refers. That is exactly why we are taking an initiative with other countries and urging them to follow our example and be prepared to accept more refugees for resettlement.

Mr. Churchill

Having recently returned from a visit to the Chi Mah Wan camp for refugees in Hong Kong, may I inform my hon. Friend that the authorities charged with looking after the interests of the Vietnamese refugees should be congratulated on the humanity with which they discharge their tasks? It is time that Her Majesty's Government redoubled their efforts to secure the placement of these refugees. Of the 9,000 refugees referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander), some 3,000 are in closed camps behind barbed wire, and many of them have been there for five years, with no prospect of being resettled. It is frightful to think that those people are refugees from totalitarian oppression.

Mr. Eggar

I welcome my hon. Friend's comments about the way that closed camps are operated and I understand his concern for the refugees. I have already said that we are doing everything that we can to urge other countries to increase the number of refugees whom they are prepared to accept.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Does the Minister accept that there is concern among all hon. Members about the inhumane conditions that people in the camps in Hong Kong are suffering? As we have a special responsibility for Hong Kong and those refugees, we believe that we should be doing more. I agree with the Minister and understand that we need to persuade other countries to do more, but Britain must take a bigger step than it has in the past.

Mr. Eggar

As well as asking other countries to increase the number of refugees whom they are prepared to take, we recognise that resettlement alone is not the answer to the problem. Therefore, we are considering longer-term solutions. In particular, we support the orderly departure programme from Vietnam as a mechanism to reduce pressure for illegal departures. We are doing all that we can to urge Vietnam to accept back people who are prepared to return. Thus far, that idea has not been well received in Vietnam.

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