Viets who claimed coercion released

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 March, 1998, 12:00am

Fifteen boat people who claim immigration officers forced them to sign away their rights have been freed.

The nine men, two women and four children allege they were held at Green Island reception centre until they signed forms declaring they were not seeking asylum.

They were among 18 ethnic Chinese boat people released this week when the Government decided not to contest in court claims they were being detained unlawfully.

All 18 had been returned to Vietnam shortly before the handover after being held in Hong Kong for up to nine years. But they claim that when they arrived in Hanoi, Vietnamese authorities told them the decision to approve their return was a mistake.

The men were interrogated and detained, while the six women and their children were ordered to move to other areas.

They say they were told their marriages, which had taken place in Hong Kong, would not be recognised in Vietnam.

After the men had been in detention for almost two months, they escaped and headed back to Hong Kong.

One man managed to bring his wife and four children, and another brought his wife. Four had to leave their families in Vietnam. The others were single men.

Fifteen of the group arrived on one boat in July.

The South China Morning Post revealed in December their claims of having been forced to sign away their rights.

Their lawyers brought their case to the Court of First Instance on Monday.

They argued that the boat people could not be held 'pending removal' because there was no reasonable prospect of them being removed.

Fifteen were freed on Monday and the remaining three on Tuesday.

They must now wait to see whether they will be allowed to stay or will have to settle with relatives overseas.

Mr Justice Brian Keith yesterday ordered the Government to pay costs.