Settling the issue

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 February, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 February, 2000, 12:00am

Since the first Vietnamese boat people arrived in Hong Kong in 1975, about 224,000 have landed.

Although 238,000 - including a large number of children born here - have since been resettled overseas or repatriated to Vietnam, about 1,400 remain because no countries want to take them.

Left with these remnants, the Government had little choice but to allow them to settle here. The closure of the last refugee camp at Pillar Point, Tuen Mun, will save around $20 million annually, although social security payments to some of the ex-inmates may yet cost the public purse. But money should not be the main consideration.

The move means a fresh start for a dispossessed people, some of whom have been here for more than two decades or were born here. For those with a criminal record - the main reason they are unwelcome elsewhere - allowing them to integrate into the local community should encourage them to put the past behind them.

Mainlanders who have to fight for right of abode are sure to feel the decision is unfair, but it cannot be called discrimination. This group of Vietnamese has been granted residency simply through the lack of an alternative. The humanitarian act will enhance the SAR's reputation, after the blow it suffered over the right-of-abode row and the Basic Law reinterpretation.

Fears the move will prompt more boatloads of Vietnamese to come sailing into the harbour are unwarranted. The country is at peace now. It is building a new economy and offering opportunity for its people to prosper on home ground.

In allowing the remaining boat people to settle here, Hong Kong can claim to have acquitted itself well in shouldering its international obligations.


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Settling the issue

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