1,400 Vietnamese win ID cards

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 12:00am

More than 1,400 Vietnamese are to be given identity cards by May in the final chapter of the 25-year boat people saga.

While they will have six weeks to decide whether to accept, officials said it was the only choice as the Government would no longer try to find them homes overseas.

Those who wanted to retain their refugee status would have to move out of Pillar Point camp in Tuen Mun - the only such camp left in the SAR - and live on their own. The camp will close by the end of May.

Officials said they had exhausted all channels to find overseas homes for the refugees and migrants, or 'non-nationals' rejected by Hanoi and stranded in the SAR.

Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said: 'It's time for us to close this chapter of history. It's been a problem for Hong Kong for a quarter of a century.' She believed most would accept identity cards.

Under the settlement plan endorsed by the Executive Council yesterday, 973 Vietnamese refugees and 435 migrants are eligible for temporary identity cards.

While more than 30 per cent of the 1,408 have criminal records, security officials dismissed fears integration would pose security threats.

They said 83 per cent of the offences were committed more than five years ago and most were minor cases.

Mrs Ip said integrating them into society would have a lower security risk than keeping them in a camp as it would be easier for them to get jobs with identity cards.

The extra cost on social services, housing and education would be offset by saving the $20 million a year it cost to run Pillar Point camp.

The Vietnamese would be able to gain permanent residency after staying in Hong Kong for seven years and obtaining a valid travel document.

Mrs Ip and the Vietnamese Consulate in Hong Kong believe the plan will not lead to an influx of Vietnamese.

Tuen Mun District Council member Chan Wan-sang said the integration plan was unfair to mainlanders fighting for right of abode. Mrs Ip insisted the two cases could not be compared.

Security Bureau and UN refugee officials who met about 200 inmates at the camp last night said most welcomed the decision to give identity cards.