Migrants' bill unlikely to be settled by UN

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 December, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 December, 1998, 12:00am

It is unlikely the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will ever repay the Government its outstanding $1.16 billion loan for looking after Vietnamese migrants.

Terence Pike, of the local UNHCR sub-office, told the Public Accounts Committee reviewing the Auditor's Report that it had not signed a letter of intent to repay the amount since no funds had been earmarked.

'The international community showed little interest in providing further support to Hong Kong. Therefore we do not foresee any funding earmarked for Hong Kong in the future.

'However, this is not to say we do not remain committed to raising funds. Should funds be earmarked for Hong Kong, they would be paid for the reimbursement for the money advances,' Mr Pike said.

The latest Audit Commission report said it would take the UNHCR 300 years to repay the loan if it continued to pay at the annual rate of $3.9 million, the last amount paid in February.

The Audit Commission has repeatedly criticised the Government's efforts to recover the outstanding advances paid to the UNHCR.

Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said the Government had asked the Foreign Ministry if the sum could be written off against the annual membership fee for the UN Security Council.

'There are other purposes for the United Nations apart from refugee problems, such as keeping world peace,' she said.

Legal advice said any sum written off would have to get the endorsement of the full council meeting of the UN and the chances would be very low.

Mrs Ip's deputy, Sally Wong Pik-yee, said the Chinese UN delegation had relayed the demand for reimbursement and the central Government had also passed the message to the United Nations representative in Beijing.