HL Deb 08 July 1991 vol 530 cc1209-10

2.53 p.m.

Lord Aylestone asked Her Majesty's Government:

What help is being given to Hong Kong to assist in alleviating the problem of the thousands of Vietnamese boat people, not classified as refugees, who have to live in detention centres.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, since 1989 Her Majesty's Government have spent almost £35 million either directly or via UNHCR on the care and screening of Vietnamese asylum seekers. We recently pledged a further £6 million to UNHCR for activities under the Comprehensive Plan of Action for 1991. We have also taken the lead in international efforts to find a durable solution. For example, we are pursuing with Vietnam, UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration, the possible creation of an internationally managed centre in Vietnam to which those non-refugees who do not opt for voluntary return can be transferred.

Lord Aylestone

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and for writing to me bringing me up to date with the position in Hong Kong regarding the Vietnamese people. Perhaps I can ask two questions. First, has the attitude of the United States changed with regard to the return to Vietnam of the Vietnamese boat people who have not volunteered but who are being persuaded to return? Secondly, has the Republic of Vietnam given an international assurance that if people are returned they will be treated decently and will be allowed to return to their villages and that in every way they need have no fear about going back?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, following a successful visit to Washington by officials of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, there has been a movement in the American attitude. The Americans want the Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is the only sensible basis on which to solve this problem, to work. It means that those who are not granted refugee status must be returned to the country of origin. As regards the second question raised by the noble Lord, over 8,000 people have now returned to Vietnam. Over 7,000 of that number came from Hong Kong. We have no evidence that persecution took place in any of those cases.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we welcome the information from the noble Earl that some progress is being made and action being taken by Her Majesty's Government in what is an extremely difficult situation in Hong Kong. Will the Minister confirm that the number of refugees has now increased to 61,000 people? Can he say what progress has been made on the Comprehensive Plan of Action agreed in 1989, and what is its main thrust?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the latest figures as of 3.30 this morning are that 61,485 people are in the camps, 381 of whom arrived during the past 72 hours. That indicates that the pressure on Hong Kong continues unabated. The Comprehensive Plan of Action was designed to solve the problem. Its primary function is designed to obtain agreement between all the countries in the area that those who leave Vietnam for whatever reason and, having gone through the screening process in Hong Kong, should they go there, fail the test of becoming recognised as a refugee are returned to Vietnam. That has not worked as satisfactorily as it was hoped, and that is why we are making efforts to set up an internationally managed centre in Vietnam so that the Comprehensive Plan of Action can work better.