Hong Kong asylum promise gave Vietnamese a safe harbour from communist persecution

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 March, 2011, 12:00am

Close on one million Vietnamese fled across the border on foot or headed out to sea by the boatload to escape political persecution and poverty after the communist North defeated the US-backed South in 1975.

Hong Kong, then a British colony, gave unconditional temporary asylum to people awaiting resettlement in the West until 1988, when it brought in a screening process to separate political refugees from economic refugees, who were eventually sent home.

Some refugees were stuck in Hong Kong after being refused asylum elsewhere due to criminal records, drug habits or because their identities could not be proved.

In June 2000, Hong Kong's last refugee camp, at Pillar Point, closed. The government gave the remaining Vietnamese refugees Hong Kong residency, calling it a humanitarian solution for the residents and their Hong Kong-born children who had been stuck in the territory awaiting relocation to the West - some for up to two decades.