Vietnamese IIs 'lured' by prison work

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 May, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 May, 2003, 12:00am

Armed Vietnamese arriving in Hong Kong by boat to carry out crimes are coming here happy with the knowledge that they will leave richer than when they arrived - even if they are arrested and jailed.

Detectives who have investigated cases involving recent boatloads of illegal immigrants say that, in many cases, the men they catch see jail as a form of 'insurance'.

All inmates in Hong Kong prisons are paid to work as part of the Correctional Services Department's policy of rehabilitation, but some officers fear this could be encouraging desperate people to take the risk of journeying to Hong Kong to commit crime.

'It's not a lot of money, but it would go a way in Vietnam,' said one detective.

'Other reasons they chose to come here are because they are under the mistaken belief that there could be some sort of refugee sanctuary.

'In some cases, they may have connections with Vietnamese who are already living here.'

In recent months, police have intercepted boatloads of armed illegal immigrants from Vietnam.

Last week, a gang of 21 suspected Vietnamese men - including veteran soldiers - allegedly carried out six robberies and two break-ins within hours of arriving in Hong Kong on a motorised sampan.

They were all arrested, have been charged with various offences and are due to appear in court soon.

In March, another boatload was stopped in the Vietnamese port of Haiphong before they could leave for Hong Kong. Explosives were discovered on board their vessel.

And in October last year, 14 Vietnamese were picked up in Stanley.

University of Hong Kong criminologist Roderic Broadhurst, from the faculty of social sciences, said prison wages were unlikely to be the only reason for Vietnamese sneaking into Hong Kong.

'There must be more to it than that,'' he said.

As of mid-May, there were 379 Vietnamese nationals in Hong Kong's jails. They are being held for a variety of crimes including theft, immigration offences, robbery, possession of a forged identity card, murder and trafficking in dangerous drugs.

A spokesman for the Correctional Services Department said all prisoners are treated the same, irrespective of their nationality.

'The Prisoner Earnings Scheme was developed as an incentive for prisoners to build up good working habits and acquire skills,'' he said.

Jobs performed by prisoners are classified into different earning grades, from a weekly rate of $26.19 to $112.81 for adult prisoners and $22.76 to $97.73 for young prisoners.

Prisoners are allotted jobs according to their fitness, security background, skills and working experience, education background and balance of sentence, the spokesman said.

A basic rate - $13.89 a week for adult prisoners and $12.15 a week for young inmates - is payable to all convicted prisoners irrespective of their ability to work, including those who are in hospital, except any appellants who have elected not to work.

Earnings are not paid in cash to prisoners while they are serving sentences.

Prisoners can spend their earnings to purchase approved articles and canteen items and to make savings which they can collect upon discharge.