THE plight of Hong Kong's boat people has drawn sympathy over the years from many people both inside and outside the territory, despite the increasingly hostile attitude taken to them by the Government and much of the local community. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain that sympathy in the light of their violence towards the police and Correctional Services Department (CSD) and the suffering the behaviour of the worst elements in the camps have inflicted on their own women and children. The misconceived attempts by US Congressmen (and more recently the State Department) to help the Vietnamese make it more difficult still. These efforts have given false hope to people who have been 'screened out' as non-refugees. It would be wrong to suggest there would have been no resistance to deportation if hopes had not been raised.
It has long been feared that a hard core of boat people would use violence to avoid forced repatriation. But by reviving false hopes, American intervention has halted voluntary repatriation and given a far larger population of boat people reason to fight any attempt at deportation. Washington is playing with people's hopes and futures for political motives that have nothing do do with their wellbeing.
However, it is the boat people, not their backers, who are doing the rioting. The arsenal of stones and homemade weapons stored for use against the police and CSD, the use of fire and barricades and the intimidation of other inmates show the lengths to which violent elements will go. It is hard to object to passive resistance or peaceful demonstrations. But violence of the sort seen yesterday can only be counter-productive. It is time to speed up the compulsory deportation programme, however difficult it may be, and get the whole messy business over and done with as quickly as Hanoi will allow.