Temporary ID for Viets to be discussed

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 12:00am

More than 1,500 Vietnamese refugees and migrants could receive identity cards under a proposal to be discussed by the Executive Council today.

The proposal is one option officials are studying to resolve the 25-year-old boat-people problem.

Other options include continuing efforts to find overseas homes for the boat people, or returning them to Vietnam.

But many of the 971 refugees do not have relatives abroad and some have criminal records. 'Compassion fatigue' in main resettlement countries could mean quite a large number might never be settled.

Among the 559 migrants who should be repatriated, many have been deemed 'non-nationals' and rejected by Hanoi.

The most feasible option is seen as issuing the boat people with temporary ID and giving them permanent residency after another seven years.

If all the boat people accept the identity cards offer, the Tuen Mun Pillar Point Centre could be closed.

The camp, home to more than 1,000 Vietnamese, costs the Government $13 million a year. The United Nations pays $7 million a year.

Law professor Raymond Wacks, of Hong Kong University, said the temporary ID card proposal was acceptable under the Basic Law.

The Basic Law says non-Chinese who have lived in Hong Kong for seven years are eligible for permanent residency if they enter with valid documents.

While the boat people did not have valid documents, the mini-constitution says people can enjoy non-permanent residency status in accordance with the local laws.

The immigration ordinance empowers the Director of Immigration and Chief Executive to authorise a person who landed unlawfully to stay.

Pam Baker, a lawyer from Refugee Concern who supports the proposal, said: 'Many of these people have been working in Hong Kong very well. The significance of granting them an identity card is that they will actually be allowed to be here and belong here.' Legislator Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee said the Government should explain how it would prevent the move from attracting more boat people.

She was also concerned whether the integration of the Vietnamese would undermine stability as some had criminal records.