HL Deb 06 May 1993 vol 545 cc798-800

3.5 p.m.

Lord Aylestone asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many illegal immigrants from Vietnam are still in detention camps in Hong Kong, and how many have returned to Vietnam in the past 12 months.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)

My Lords, as of 1st April 1993, 23,203 illegal Vietnamese immigrants were in detention camps in Hong Kong. Another 17,755 asylum seekers were awaiting determination of their status. A total of 12,612 Vietnamese migrants returned home from Hong Kong during 1992. A further 1,646 have returned in 1993.

Lord Aylestone

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Will the camps be clear by 1997? Further, in considering the numbers left in the camps, will he bear in mind that some have been classified as refugees and not simply as immigrants?

Lord Henley

My Lords, if the rate of voluntary returns is maintained and the remaining refugees in the camps are resettled, we expect the camps to be empty within three years and certainly by 1997. I should stress that those who are classified as refugees are not being returned; they will be resettled somewhere else. It is only those who are not classified as refugees whom we are seeking to return.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, is the Minister aware that conditions in the detention camps in Hong Kong are about to deteriorate as a result of a change in policy towards employment? Opportunities for employment are to be cut drastically and adult education classes are also to be cut. I have just returned from Hong Kong where I saw the appalling conditions in Whitehead detention camps. Does the Minister agree that the UK Government should exert pressure to ensure that those conditions do not deteriorate further as a result of the implementation of new and undesirable policies?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I note the concerns of the noble Baroness. I was not aware of those particular problems. Wherever possible the UNHCR recommendations for camp conditions in respect of food, nutrition and water standards have been adopted and food is provided in accordance with dietary scales drawn up by Hong Kong dieticians and the UNHCR technical advisers. Having said that, I repeat that I note what the noble Baroness said and her personal knowledge having recently visited the camps. I shall certainly bring those points to the attention of my noble friend.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, I acknowledge that this point may be slightly wide of the Question. Can my noble friend say how many illegal Vietnamese immigrants have arrived in Hong Kong in the past 12 months or whatever period he has at his finger tips? Of those returning to Vietnam, has there been any marked differentiation in intake between the north of Vietnam and the south of Vietnam?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I cannot answer my noble friend's second question. As regards his first, the figures I have at the moment—and this is important in relation to the Question in terms of the success of our policies—are that in 1991 there was an outflow of some 20,000 people from Vietnam into Hong Kong. I understand that the figure in 1992 was a mere 12 and that at the beginning of this week the figure for 1993 was nought, although as of today I gather that it is three.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, perhaps I can help the noble Lord. I believe that the answer to the first part of the question is that the vast majority of those returning are returning to north Vietnam.

Perhaps I may take up the point the noble Lord made about UNHCR. It is correct that the standards of nutrition are good in the camps. However, the regime in the camps is not simply dependent on the type of food that is being served up. It is dependent on many other factors. There are thousands of children in the camps. We should be pressing for adequate educational facilities for children and adults to be continued. We should not make conditions worse by leaving many people idle who would otherwise work.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness again for her intervention. I could have gone on longer about conditions in the camps, the education programmes run by the voluntary agencies, the baby clinics and so on. However, in view of the fact that it is Question Time, I tried to keep my answer short. Again, I stress to the noble Baroness that there are educational programmes, and we are aware of those concerns. There are baby clinics to look after the health of the babies. All those matters are kept under consideration.