HC Deb 08 February 1989 vol 146 cc968-70
4. Mr. Sims

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress Her Majesty's Government have made in consultations with other Governments and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to further the initiative to resettle Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong, announced by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State on 22 December 1988.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We have launched a vigorous diplomatic campaign urging other resettlement countries. to respond generously to our initiative. At our request, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has undertaken to do the same. It is too early to say what the outcome of our campaign will be, but initial responses have been encouraging.

Mr. Sims

In negotiations with other Governments, will my right hon. and learned Friend emphasise that we have not only a humanitarian responsibility towards those original boat people, many of whom have been in camps in Hong Kong for 10 years, but a moral responsibility to the people and Government of the greatly overpopulated territory of Hong Kong who have housed and fed those genuine refugees?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Yes, it is entirely right to emphasise those points. The people and Government of Hong Kong have responded consistently and effectively to the demands and pressures resulting from the inflow of boat people. That is another reason, in addition to the humanitarian reason, for seeking to promote the programme as effectively as we can.

Mr. Tom Clarke

If this tragic problem continues to be addressed at the present slow pace, will it not remain with us up to and beyond 1997, and is that not an appalling prospect?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I know of his long-standing concern about this problem. It is because of our strong wish to see the problem resolved on a time scale which finishes ahead of 1997 that we have been taking the decisions and steps that we have.

Mr. Wells

Are not the Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong principally refugees in the sense that they are economic migrants from an extremely poor standard of living in Vietnam to richer pastures in Hong Kong and through Hong Kong to other metropolitan countries? Would it not, therefore, be sensible to conduct robust negotiations with the Vietnamese Government with a view to the resettlement of these people in Vietnam?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the cause of the problem. It is undoubtedly because of the economic migration factor that it has been right to introduce the pattern of screening now in place, with the advice of the UNHCR, so as to identify the genuine refugees and encourage the re-establishment of the others in Vietnam. We have held a number of rounds of talks with Vietnamese officials and I have twice raised the matter at ministerial level. We have emphasised the need for effective arrangements to be made for the reception of these people back in their homeland.

Rev. Martin Smyth

How vigorous is vigorous and how encouraging is encouraging if, after 10 years, people are still confined to camps, which is surely no better than palatial house arrest?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The fact that it has proved so difficult to sustain the prospects for onward movement of the boat people in the face of the sudden upsurge in their number in the past two years has emphasised the need to introduce changes which check the prospect of indefinite growth and serve to reduce the numbers to a manageable proportion while giving us the prospect of being able to persuade other countries to join us in tackling the problem while it is still of a measurable size.

Mr. Greg Knight

Given that 20,000 Indo-Chinese have been admitted to this country since 1979, including over 13,000 Vietnamese refugees from Hong Kong, do not the facts speak for themselves? Do not the Government have an honourable record in admitting these people, bearing in mind the other immigration pressures that we face?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out. Given the huge pressures from other directions, our record in respect of this group of people has been important. In view of the diminishing prospects for the reception of more such people around the world, it was necessary and right for us to give a signal to future boat people that they could not keep on flowing into Hong Kong in search of a future that could not and would not exist.

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