HL Deb 21 October 1991 vol 531 cc117-8WA
Lord Gainford

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the latest position regarding the Vietnamese migrants in Hong Kong.

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

There are now nearly 64,000 Vietnamese migrants in Hong Kong. They are living in camps which, although the Government of Hong Kong has done its best to make the living conditions acceptable, were not designed for long-term stay. The bulk of the immigrants are not genuine refugees: more than 80 per cent. of those screened since screening was introduced in Hong Kong in June 1988 have been determined not to be refugees. Arrivals in Hong Kong this year have been much higher than in 1990.

Over 20,000 have arrived since January, 250 per cent. more than for the same period last year. No other country in the region is receiving more than a fraction of these numbers. Hong Kong cannot cope with so many migrants. The solution must be to implement fully the comprehensive plan of action (CPA) agreed by 74 countries at the second international conference on Indo-Chinese refugees in June 1989.

Discussions continue between the British, Hong Kong and Vietnamese Governments on ways to implement the comprehensive plan of action in full and in particular the provision that all non-refugees should return to their country of origin in accordance with international practices. As a first step, agreement has now been reached on the modalities of returning the so -called double-backers. These are non-refugees who have abused the voluntary repatriation system: having volunteered to return to Vietnam from Hong Kong once, thereby benefitting from UNHCR's repatriation payment, they have entered Hong Kong illegally a second time out of economic self-interest. Meanwhile discussions of the detailed arrangements for repatriating other non-refugees in Hong Kong continue.

The Vietnamese Government have guaranteed that no illegal immigrant who returns to Vietnam will face persecution. They will continue to facilitate the monitoring of all those who return by the UNHCR and others to ensure that these guarantees are fully respected. In the last 2i years, more than 10,000 Vietnamese migrants have returned voluntarily to Vietnam from Hong Kong without a single substantiated case of persecution.

As we have always made clear, we have great sympathy for the economic hardship which in many cases has persuaded the migrants to leave their country for Hong Kong. But they have been misled into believing that they will be resettled overseas in countries where they have greater economic opportunities. It is no service to the real refugee if he is not distinguished from those seeking to use asylum as a device to better their standard of living.

To help those returning to take up their lives in Vietnam, we have made a pledge of £3 million to the 114 million dollar international reintegration assistance programme. This is in addition to our substantial share of the European Community's contribution to this programme.

Finally, the British Government hope and expect that signature of the comprehensive political settlement of the Cambodia conflict in Paris on 23rd October will open a new and more hopeful chapter in the tragic history of Indo-China. If economic conditions improve, this will help to eliminate the root cause of the flow of migrants.