Mass removal from Whitehead 'risks violence'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 March, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 March, 1996, 12:00am

The voluntary departure of almost 600 boat people from the High Island Vietnamese detention centre has forced the Government to consider a potentially dangerous mass removal operation at the Whitehead camp.

With fewer than 1,000 people left in the High Island (north) camp, it is understood that there will soon be a need to 'top up' the numbers by taking people from the huge Whitehead centre, which houses 8,800 Vietnamese.

People targeted for deportation have traditionally been removed from High Island (north), which allows safer and easier access for security forces than Whitehead.

With 580 voluntary departures over the last week from High Island, and the extraction of about another 300 people in recent weeks, the camp, which has a capacity of 2,700, is emptying fast.

Yesterday, 985 people were being held there.

Another extraction operation is planned at High Island for April 11, when at least 100 people will be deported.

The last big raid at Whitehead was in May last year - a two-day operation during which security forces almost lost control and a mass escape was only narrowly averted.

A total of 1,500 people in Section One of Whitehead were targeted in the operation to transfer them to the High Island camp.

A government source said yesterday that plans were being developed to 'decant a significant number' of people out of Whitehead and into High Island to enable the regular flights under the deportation scheme, known as the Orderly Repatriation Programme, to continue.

'There is no firm date and there are no terms for another operation at Whitehead, but the Government is considering how and when it could be done,' the source admitted.

A Security Branch spokesman said: 'Any transfers between detention centres will be announced in due course.' In the raid at Whitehead last May, several Correctional Services Department officers and police were assaulted by Vietnamese.

But the Attorney-General refused to take the matter to court, despite the recommendations of police who investigated, and who had video evidence of the attacks.