245 Viets may stay in limbo

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2000, 12:00am

More than 200 Vietnamese boat people will remain in limbo in Hong Kong if they decide not to apply for residency by today's deadline.

By Monday, 1,163 of the 1,408 eligible refugees and migrants had applied for identity cards under the resettlement plan announced in February.

The Government decided to offer residency to the 973 Vietnamese refugees and 435 migrants and close the last refugee camp at Pillar Point in Tuen Mun to end the 25-year boat people saga.

A Security Bureau spokesman said most of the 245 people who remained undecided were refugees.

The Immigration Department's office was closed for the Ching Ming festival yesterday, but officers were sent to Pillar Point camp to try to collect application forms.

Officials expect a possible last-minute influx of applications today.

Some Vietnamese are reluctant to apply for residency because they still want to emigrate.

'But even if not all of the eligible boat people apply, it does not mean the resettlement plan has failed,' a spokeswoman said.

'Whether to apply to stay in Hong Kong or not is a voluntary decision.

'The Government will not force them to accept the offer.' The spokeswoman said the decision to offer residency to the boat people was based on humanitarian grounds as there was a slim chance of their emigrating or returning to Vietnam.

She warned it would not be good for either the boat people or Hong Kong if they opted to remain in limbo.

She said those who refused to apply for residency could retain their refugee or migrant status.

But they would not enjoy the rights of a Hong Kong citizen or receive assistance such as public housing or allowances. 'They can continue living in Hong Kong to work or study,' the spokeswoman said.

Pillar Point camp will close at the end of next month when all the inmates will have move out and find their own homes.