Clashes feared as removal of camp residents looms

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 May, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 May, 2000, 12:00am

Vietnamese who refuse to leave the Tuen Mun Pillar Point camp when it closes tomorrow will be considered trespassers and removed, security officials warned yesterday.

The warning from Deputy Secretary for Security Timothy Tong Hin-ming came after some residents said they would stay put when the camp closed. But Mr Tong sidestepped questions on whether force would be used to evict defiant residents, believed to number about 100.

He said he believed not many of the 320 remaining residents at the camp would refuse to leave as it was understood most were preparing to move out in the next 48 hours. Mr Tong said the authorities had commissioned the Civil Aid Service to maintain site discipline and enforce strict access control after closure of the camp, while police and fire officers would be on standby.

'If - and it's a big, big if - violence does break out, appropriate measures will immediately be applied to maintain law and order,' he said. 'Any persons staying behind in the site after May 31 will not be regarded as camp occupants as the refugees centre will no longer exist. Technically, they will be trespassers and will be subject to removal.' He said the Civil Aid Service would have discretionary power to allow residents to stay if they could prove they had already rented a flat but had to delay the removal date for good reason. Mr Tong declined to say how long this grace period would last as he said he did not want it to be abused.

Civil Aid Service officers will move into the camp at 4pm tomorrow and take over responsibility for the site from Caritas-Hong Kong from midnight. Sixteen officers will be on duty during each eight-hour shift. Mr Tong said he did not rule out the possibility that some residents were buying time to stay at the camp to fight for more assistance.

Ninety per cent of the 1,417 Vietnamese - 841 refugees and 433 migrants - have applied for an identity card, offered under a plan to end the boat people saga that has spanned a quarter of a century in Hong Kong. The remaining 143 Vietnamese will retain their refugee or migrant status pending the outcome of their applications to be settled abroad.

Removal allowances ranging from $3,950 to $11,410 depending on family size have been offered to all Vietnamese living at the camp when they leave. While more than 700 people have moved out over the past three months, 481 of them applied and obtained removal allowances totalling $1.17 million. The total payout is expected to reach $3.1 million.

A total of 239 boat people in genuine hardship are also being given either comprehensive social security assistance and compassionate rehousing or just the financial assistance.

Mr Tong said services such as cleaning and maintenance would terminate after the closure. Police conducted searches at the camp yesterday but no home-made weapons were found. Workers have also started dismantling some of the emptied huts.