PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 April, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 April, 2003, 12:00am

South China Morning Post photographers have raced to capture Hong Kong's defining moments in the years since the newspaper hit the streets. In this, the publication's centenary year, our researchers are trawling the archives to illustrate a forthcoming book celebrating 100 years of history as seen through the camera lens. Post Magazine provides a preview of some of the most spectacular images.

LANTAU, JUNE 15, 1979: The Discovery Bay anchorage is packed with 43 boats overflowing with 4,232 Vietnamese refugees. Many had not washed or slept properly during their two-month journey through pirate-infested waters.

The British administration had declared Hong Kong a port of first asylum for anyone fleeing Vietnam after the fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese forces in April 1975. In 1978, Hanoi fell out with China and the trickle of refugees became a flood.

Photographer Sunny Lee took this picture on June 10, 1979, when an unprecedented 4,516 arrived. A record 68,748 boat people arrived that year.

The port of first asylum declaration gave Vietnamese refugees automatic refugee status and eligibility for resettlement in the West. But many were believed to be economic, not political refugees and in 1988 the Hong Kong government began treating boat people as illegal immigrants. Owing to a lack of space, people were held on ferries and in warehouses, where disease and violence were rife. In 1989, riots broke out in detention centres and in December the government started a forced repatriation programme. The worst incident occurred in February 1991, when rioting South Vietnamese boat people at Sek Kong camp set fire to a hut packed with North Vietnamese, killing 24 people.

By 1992, arrivals had dwindled, but the saga of the boat people dragged on for 25 years, ending in June 2000 when the government allowed about 1,000 Vietnamese refugees to stay after the last Vietnamese detention camp was closed.