HUNDREDS of boat people will be resettled in a scheme requiring them to leave Hong Kong's camps for Vietnam before being sent to Australia. The unexpected programme, to be launched on November 1 by the Australian Immigration Department, is part of a move to reunite boat people with relatives in Australia. Detainees at Whitehead, High Island and Tai A Chau detention centres have been visited by Australian officials based in Hong Kong to make them aware of the programme and urge them to participate. Initially the programme, called the Vietnamese Special Assistance Category, caters for the resettlement of up to 600 applicants. To be eligible they must have returned to Vietnam by January 1. The Australian move, the most significant of any on resettlement of non-refugees in several years, is likely to be accepted by Hanoi officials opposed to United States offers of resettlement under different terms. Only limited support has been shown for the Australian plan in the camps, an attitude that has been blamed on hopes being held out by the boat people for the US plan, which has been stalled for several months. Hanoi has refused to discuss the US plan which would involve re-screening returnees in Vietnam and resettling up to 20,000 people who officials believe face persecution if they remain. The Australian plan does not involve re-screening. It offers resettlement only, on the basis of family links with close relatives. It will be a requirement of the plan that applicants receive a written undertaking of support from a close relative who has been an Australian citizen or permanent resident since January 1 last year. An Australian government official said the support pledge was an undertaking to provide the applicant and his family with certain assistance during the first six months in Australia. 'This assistance would include help with food, accommodation, obtaining employment and access to community and public services,' the official said. The term 'close relative' is defined as parent, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, nephew or niece. The Australian scheme is similar to the Orderly Departure Programme, operated by the US, which also provides resettlement on a family reunion basis. This programme has largely been completed. 'There is a large Vietnamese community residing in Australia who have a lot to offer. 'They have indicated to the Government they would be amenable to providing the documents of support and all that goes with it, if it means their families can be together again,' the official said. 'Of course guarantees can't be given, because the applicants would still have to undergo health checks even if they fell within the parameters of the programme . . . what I would say is that many people in Hong Kong would appear to be a walk-up start,' he said. 'We spoke with one woman who had almost her entire family living in Australia, so on the surface she is one of those who would be more than eligible.' Most of the Vietnamese living in Australia are from South Vietnam. It was expected that many of the people living on Tai A Chau and in High Island (south) would be eligible for the Australian scheme. Both camps contain only southerners. Applicants will be processed through the Australian Consulate-General in Ho Chi Minh City.