Viet detention unit planned at Kai Tak
A $12 million plan has been drawn up to convert Kai Tak Transit Centre into a holding unit for boat people facing forced repatriation.
The aim is to ease chronic overcrowding at Victoria Prison.
Work on upgrading security at the former RAF building could be completed in weeks if the scheme got the go-ahead, top government sources said yesterday.
The move follows widespread condemnation of the conditions in Victoria Prison where nearly 1,000 people are often squashed into space intended for only 438 inmates.
Amnesty International has asked to tour the jail following reports that Vietnamese have been beaten up and segregated.
Detainees claim that children have had to climb through a hole in the roof to fetch rainwater in plastic bags because of water shortages in the prison.
If the Legislative Council's Finance Committee gives its approval, the Kai Tak conversion work could begin next month.
The two-storey building accommodates up to 350 detainees, but a Correctional Services officer said the number could be doubled after the conversion.
The unit is used for women from the remote Tai A Chau Vietnamese detention centre and their families, so that they can be nearer a hospital.
But Tai A Chau is to close this month when all 5,500 detainees are moved to Whitehead.
A government source said: 'We hope to get this scheme on the table as soon as Legco resumes. I don't think anyone will object to the money if it helps speed up repatriation.
'This will alleviate overcrowding in Victoria Prison. We're talking about five to six flights a month now, and it will be much less hassle to take them to Kai Tak than from Victoria Prison.
'It would need $12 million to improve security, but it would be a quick job. The fencing would need to be strengthened if you don't want people escaping. At the moment, there's just one fence which acts as a token deterrent.' Refugee workers described the centre as 'dank and grim', but said detainees would get more fresh air and space than they did in Victoria Prison.
Security Branch denied there was any plan to convert the centre 'at the moment'.
Two repatriation flights were cancelled yesterday when Typhoon Sally lashed the territory.
The 218 Vietnamese are scheduled to be flown to Hanoi today.