Defiant camp residents ignore midnight deadline

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 June, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 June, 2000, 12:00am

More than 160 Vietnamese inmates refused to leave Pillar Point camp when it closed at midnight last night, with around 50 of them staging a sit-down protest inside the main gate.

Caritas Hong Kong handed over the site to the Civil Aid Service, which has been commissioned to maintain discipline. A team of ex-Gurkhas marched through the gates at the stroke of midnight, with the Pillar Point sign at the gate being replaced with one announcing: 'The camp is now closed.' Security officers said they had a contingency plan to deal with those who did not have permission to stay.

In the run-up to the closure, some of the inmates began taking signatures for a petition they plan to present to Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's office today demanding the Government grant them temporary housing.

At about 1am, 50 of the remaining 164 inmates tried to force their way out of the camp, but were stopped by security officers and began a sit-down protest. One shouted: 'This is an open camp. We used to have no restrictions. We have no home to go to.' Many of the inmates who refused to move said they could not afford to find a home with the limited government assistance offered. Banners hung around the camp read 'HK Gov please give us a small place for live' and 'We need a place for living. Please concern our hurt.' Residents sat on the camp balcony swinging umbrellas as 16 Civil Aid Service officers entered the camp carrying ladders, spotlights and communications equipment.

Civil Aid Service chief staff officer Robert Chan Ming-kui said he would not cut off water and electricity immediately, but did not say when that might happen. He said discretionary authority would be exercised to allow inmates with sound reasons to stay. He did not say for how long.

Entry and exit at the camp is now prohibited between midnight and 6am, and anyone going in or out will be subject to checks. The restriction is expected to pose difficulties for inmates who do not have permission to stay as they cannot go out to buy food or send their children to school.

One refugee, mother of three Ms Lee, 27, said she had been told she would be reimbursed by the Government if she borrowed money to pay a deposit for a rented flat. But she had not been repaid enough. 'When I returned to the camp last night my hut had been torn down. Four of us will now have to sleep on the pathway inside the camp. We won't go. If they kick us out, we'll just sleep outside the camp.' Another mother, Luong Thi Lan, 29, said: 'My baby will have to sleep on the street. We need more help from the Government.' But Principal Assistant Secretary for Security Alan Chu King-man said: 'The people at the camp have the ability to stand on their own feet. I appeal to them to act reasonably and move out as soon as possible. The Government is determined to close the last Vietnamese camp.' Mr Chan said: 'The Government will consider all lawful, reasonable and acceptable action to take care of cases where people refuse to move out and have no reason to stay.' Tuen Mun district police commander Chief Superintendent Au Hok-lam said the police hoped to deploy minimal force.

The head of the UNHCR Hong Kong sub-office, Terence Pike, visited the camp and urged the remaining inmates to leave, saying integration would be in the best interests of their children.