Debt unlikely to be repaid, says UN official

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 November, 2000, 12:00am

The chances of the SAR ever seeing the US$147 million (HK$1.16 billion) it is owed by the United Nations for looking after Vietnamese refugees are slim, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees said yesterday.

Frederick Barton said international donations had dwindled and the UNHCR was now heavily in deficit, with an annual shortfall of US$150 million.

'We're constantly begging and going about making the argument how important our work is and how we need greater international support,' he said.

Speaking after the opening ceremony of an international conference on human trafficking and refugees, Mr Barton said the commission was taking care of 22 million refugees globally on an annual budget of less than US$900 million. He appealed to wealthy people in Hong Kong to give the commission financial support.

More than 230,000 Vietnamese boat people arrived in Hong Kong from 1975 seeking asylum. The territory spent a total of US$1.1 billion from public funds running refugee camps. About 143,000 Vietnamese, classified as refugees, were settled overseas, mostly in the United States and Australia. The rest were classified as boat people and repatriated.

In June this year, the last refugee centre at Pillar Point was closed, with the 1,400 remaining Vietnamese boat people resettling in the territory permanently.