100 Vietnamese to be released from detention

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 October, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 October, 1996, 12:00am

More than 100 Vietnamese are to be released from Whitehead detention centre today, sources said yesterday.

The surprise move comes as refugee lawyers prepare to ask a High Court judge to free 4,000 boat people not cleared for repatriation.

Vietnam has said it will not take people back unless it can be proved they are nationals. Lawyers say many of those not cleared are considered Chinese or Taiwanese.

Others have no household registration in Vietnam.

Yesterday, staff at New Horizons refugee centre in Choi Hung were preparing dozens of bunks for the influx.

A spokesman said: 'We've been told to expect 130 from Whitehead some time before noon. We don't know why they've been released. We've just received orders to prepare for them.' From there the Vietnamese will be moved to Pillar Point refugee centre once refurbishment is complete.

The Government refused to comment yesterday, but sources said the majority were southerners who had been rejected by Vietnam.

Others could be people whose applications for voluntary repatriation had been pending for a long time.

They will be free to live and work in Hong Kong, but will have no permanent residency right.

Last week Government Refugee Co-ordinator Brian Bresnihan flew to Hanoi for discussions on how to speed up processing of people awaiting clearance.

Sources close to the talks said Vietnam had held fast to the nationality issue.

Earlier this year 275 boat people were freed after the Privy Council ruled it was unlawful to detain 15 Vietnamese who were unlikely to be repatriated.

The Government immediately tightened legislation to prevent a wave of further releases.

But refugee lawyers are planning to file for habeas corpus for 4,000 Vietnamese early next week.

They claim it is inhumane to keep people locked up when they have not been accepted for return.

Most have been detained since 1989 or 1990. A quarter of the group have applied for voluntary repatriation.