Officials face tough questions on Viets

THE Government will be asked tomorrow to explain how it plans to compensate Vietnamese boat people it deported before their claims could be processed.

The demand will be made at an inquiry by the Legislative Council's security and legal services panels.

It has taken more than a year to process Legal Aid applications from nearly 400 Vietnamese targeted in a violent transfer operation at the Whitehead detention centre last year. Many have been repatriated.

The inquiry was announced after the South China Morning Post revealed the delays on May 1.

Only one person has so far been given legal aid. She was given it on the same day the Post article was published.

Since then, the Post has reported that the opinion of counsel in the Attorney-General's chambers is that out of court settlements should be awarded to all Vietnamese who sustained injuries directly attributed to the waves of tear-gas used in the April 7 raid.

Legal services panel chairman Simon Ip Sik-on, who initiated the inquiry, said it was the right of all eligible people for the payment to be made to them as they wished. That included those boat people already forcibly repatriated.

Some of those making claims were sent back, even though about 5,000 others had been cleared by Hanoi for forced return.

Mr Ip said it would be easy to establish payout guidelines for everyone and the delay appeared to be inexcusable on the evidence available.

He and his fellow legislators will seek information from Refugees Co-ordinator Brian Bresnihan and representatives of the Legal Aid Department and Refugee Concern.

'A big question must be to ask why the Government did not give an opinion until a year after the delivery of a report into the raid by justices of the peace,' Mr Ip said.

'It appears that the Government accepts the findings of the report in respect of too much tear-gas being used and has based its recommendation for payouts on that report . . . why the delay when many of the people concerned have been deported?' A report on the issue by Refugee Concern said the attempts by the Vietnamese to obtain justice had been thwarted. The Government was hurting Hong Kong by ignoring the rule of law.