Design of camps aids resistance

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 July, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 July, 1995, 12:00am

THE layouts of at least two of Hong Kong's hurriedly built Vietnamese detention centres are preventing the Government from mounting successful operations to remove inmates for repatriation.

The High Island (south) and Tai A Chau detention centres were built to solve massive overcrowding at the height of the influx of more than 34,000 boat people into the territory in 1989.

However, the speed with which they were built meant they were designed as holding centres rather than penal institutions, sources said.

Government sources say that as a consequence, removing people who refuse to be repatriated is all but impossible without risking the lives of police and Correctional Services Department staff.

The major obstacle to future operations at High Island (south) is the closeness of accommodation huts, a problem already encountered at the massive Whitehead camp.

At Tai A Chau, an island camp which relies on its remote location off Lantau Island for its security, the logistics of transporting thousands of officers rules out any large-scale operations.

The only tried-and-tested camp to remove people from is the High Island (north) camp which, though smaller than the south camp, offers more room to manoeuvre between huts.

'Even going into High Island north camp has its problems, and when there is large-scale resistance, the damage bill just gets bigger every time,' one source said.

The cost of removing groups from Vietnamese camps this year has already run into millions, taking into account staff overtime costs, damages and repatriation flights.

An operation at Whitehead in May and others at High Island (north) last month met with massive opposition. Dozens of officers and Vietnamese were injured.

Detainees have been more hostile to removal for repatriation while a draft piece of United States legislation for resettlement of up to 20,000 boat people remains alive. The bill is yet to be voted on by the US Senate but has been approved by Congress.

'At the moment, we do not contemplate going back into Whitehead, and Tai A Chau is just too remote and difficult for a large number of officers to get into and control,' another source said.

'The south camp at High Island offers some room in the main compound, but people getting on to rooftops would be hard to get at because the huts are so close together.' The Government had planned to send back two groups of about 100 each on deportation flights last month.

However, resistance at High Island (north) which saw widespread violence and left a trail of damage forced a change of mind after the first group of 100 was removed. Only one group was sent back.

The Government will not comment on plans for future operations in the camps.

About 21,000 boat people remain in Hong Kong. The Government acknowledged last week that the proposal in the US for large-scale resettlement meant the repatriation programme, which was due to be wound up early next year, was likely to be delayed.