Probe into Amnesty claims on Vietnamese

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 May, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 May, 1994, 12:00am

THE Government is reviewing claims by Amnesty International that Hong Kong's policy of detaining Vietnamese asylum-seekers contravenes international standards.

In a report titled ''Hong Kong: Arbitrary detention of Vietnamese asylum-seekers'', Amnesty said it opposed the detention of asylum-seekers unless they had been charged with a recognisable criminal offence, or authorities could demonstrate that the detention was necessary.

It also called for each of the 25,300 Vietnamese detainees in Hong Kong to be brought before a judicial or similar authority to determine if their detention was lawful and in accordance with international standards.

In 1982 a system of detaining all Vietnamese arrivals was introduced. It was modified in 1988 when a screening process was brought in to determine who were genuine refugees and who were economic migrants.

Those screened in as refugees were placed in open camps while those screened out, which made up the majority of cases, were placed in closed camps.

It is the screening process that has caused widespread concern among the Vietnamese detainees, who claim that it is unfair. They continue to conduct demonstrations and hunger strikes opposing the system.

''While Hong Kong is by no means the only country where asylum-seekers are detained, it should be pointed out that the detention policy in Hong Kong is particularly notorious,'' the report said.

''The numbers involved and the prolonged nature of the detention contribute to this notoriety, and as the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers are increasingly at risk in other parts of the world it is crucially important that particular gross violations of their rights are addressed.'' The Government is currently under investigation by an independent inquiry looking into a controversial operation last month which saw hundreds of detainees attacked with tear-gas in a transfer operation at Whitehead detention centre.

The Government says Vietnamese asylum-seekers are placed in detention when they arrive as a deterrent to others considering leaving Vietnam for the territory.

''The reasons for detaining Vietnamese asylum-seekers are not recognised as legitimate by international standards,'' the report said.

It said there was no provision for their detention to be subject to judicial control, nor a procedure whereby asylum-seekers could challenge the lawfulness of their detention.

''The only way to challenge the detention is through an application for judicial review, which is not an effective remedy.

''The result is that thousands of Vietnamese asylum-seekers are arbitrarily detained in Hong Kong - committed to detention by order of an immigration officer and held, in many cases for several years, in prison-like conditions.'' It said that during their initial arrest, asylum-seekers were not advised of a right to legal advice and assistance to challenge the detention order, as far as the report's authors were aware.

It said Hong Kong legislation dealing with Vietnamese asylum-seekers was contrary to international standards, including treaty obligations of the United Kingdom of which Hong Kong was a dependent territory.

The report said the legislation violated the prohibition on arbitrary detention as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

It said Hong Kong's stated claim that Vietnamese were detained not because of any risk they posed but as a deterrent to others was not a valid reason for detention.

''The use of detention for purposes of deterrence is clearly unacceptable under international standards. People enjoy an internationally recognised right to flee their countries and seek asylum elsewhere.''