Alcohol searches mounted at camps
A CRACKDOWN on homemade alcohol was stepped up to keep the Vietnamese detention centres calm during the Lunar New Year holidays.
A spokesman for the Correctional Services Department (CSD), which runs six camps, said staff had been asked to be doubly vigilant for secret distilleries and home-made rice wine.
During last year's Lunar New Year festivities, 24 people died at the Sek Kong detention centre after a mob set fire to a hut containing about 200 Vietnamese following a dispute over alcohol debts.
The tragedy sparked an inquiry headed by Mr Justice Kempster, who made 13 recommendations to improve camp management and security.
The CSD spokesman said a search had been carried out last Tuesday at the High Island detention centre to seize illicit wine before the weekend celebrations.
A total of 86 litres were found, which the CSD considers a small quantity given the camp's population of 7,012 people.
A police raid last weekend on Tai A Chau detention centre, managed by the Hongkong Housing Society for Refugees, also netted a quantity of homemade wine.
Aid workers said police and CSD raids have had a limited effect on the problem of alcohol, which was widely consumed in the camps.
''As long as they have food - rice, bread and oranges - they can make wine. And even if they have a little bit left after a raid, they can use it like yoghurt as a base to make more,'' one voluntary worker said.
There are 44,817 Vietnamese boat people in Hongkong, 2,505 of whom have been screened-in as refugees.