Viet families win reprieve

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 January, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 January, 1997, 12:00am


Former Vietnamese Green Beret officers, enlisted by United States special forces, won an 11th-hour reprieve from repatriation yesterday.

Fearing death now that their war records are known by the Vietnamese Government, the four veterans, along with their families, narrowly escaped being forced on a plane scheduled to leave for Hanoi today.

At the High Court yesterday, the group of 27 boat people won the right to challenge the Director of Immigration over their refugee status.

In the meantime, they received a government guarantee from William Marshall QC that they would not be forced back to Vietnam before their status was decided.

Granting leave pending a judicial review of their refugee status, Mr Justice Brian Keith referred to their fears as linked to the 'harsh and persecutionary practices of the past'.

The war veterans fled Vietnam in 1990 and 1991 when their war records were discovered by the Government.

The four worked as Green Berets for US special forces, including CIA-linked organisations.

Last month, a group of 31 Vietnamese war veterans won a similar last-ditch plea to have their status reconsidered after the Director of Immigration tried to have it decided at a hastily arranged Court of Appeal hearing.

The government bid to send them back to Vietnam ahead of their court case was described by senior judges as verging on an abuse of the system.

The Court of Appeal said the Government had to follow normal procedure and go through a High Court judge first.

Lawyer Wanyong Austin of the advocacy group Refugee Concern said yesterday the detainees, now being held at High Island, had brought action against their removal last Friday.

The judicial review has been scheduled for March 20.

'They are convinced they face persecution on their return - especially now their cases are so well-known,' Ms Austin said.