Bid to halt return for victimes of camp raid
By SCOTT McKENZIE
LEGISLATIVE investigators will ask the Security Branch to deliver a firm guarantee not to deport any more Vietnamese asylum-seekers making claims against the Government until an inquiry is completed next month.
Legal Services Panel chairman Simon Ip Sik-on confirmed yesterday that he and Security Panel chairman Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee would make the request this week in a letter to the Secretary for Security, Peter Lai Hing-ling.
Both panels meet on June 1 to look into the problem - identified on May 1 by the South China Morning Post - of the lengthy delays faced by almost 400 Vietnamese boat people seeking legal aid.
All were victims of a bungled raid on the Whitehead Detention Centre on April 7 last year in which more than 500 canisters of tear-gas were used to remove 1,500 Vietnamese being transferred to High Island.
Some Vietnamese were injured and many more claimed to have lost belongings in the operation.
Their claims to the Legal Aid Department for assistance in their actions to seek compensation based on Government liability have still to be processed.
Only one woman, who was left crippled after the raid, has been awarded legal aid. None of the remaining 387 people has even been advised of the progress of their claims and many have been deported.
The inquiry would seek to find out why the Government had deported people from this group rather than the thousands of others who had been approved for return by Hanoi.
It will also move to identify reasons for the delays in processing the applications.
'We will send a letter asking that no more of these people be deported until we have looked into the matter . . . there are many others who have been confirmed for return who can be deported just as easily,' Mr Ip said.
Lawyers representing the applicants have expressed serious concerns that not only have applicants been deported but so too have many of the potential witnesses.
The Legal Aid Department has admitted the deportation of many applicants and potential witnesses posed a problem.
Representatives of the Government Refugees Division, the Legal Aid Department and Refugee Concern will be asked to present information to the joint panel investigators.
Several deportees have told the Post that they feared they would never be compensated for their losses once they were repatriated to Hanoi.
About 30 Vietnamese began a rooftop protest at the High Island (north) detention centre yesterday following the news that they were to be deported soon.
About 80 of the remaining 250 people cleared to return are expected to be deported next week after refusing to volunteer for repatriation.