The boat people languishing in Hong Kong as 'non-nationals' can be seen as victims of Vietnam's turbulent history. Those not cleared for return have slipped through a net of often complex, grassroots bureaucracy that has developed under 40 years of Communist Party rule in northern Vietnam. According to British and Vietnamese officials, few boat people in Hong Kong hold identity documents, which would make local checking a formality. Instead, Vietnam's Interior Ministry clears people for return after verifying names and family histories against other documents, often held at village or district level. 'Computerisation is in its infancy so it can be time-consuming, but the records can be extensive,' one source said. 'Clearances are usually relatively straightforward at the end of the day, and things are speeding up all the time.' Usually, only party members and government officials carry identity papers, but households, marriages and births are registered. Despite continuing bureaucracy reforms, permits are still needed - in theory - for internal travel. A person wanting to stay the night in another's home must register with the local authorities. Vietnam's nationality laws allow non-ethnic Vietnamese not born in the country to become nationals. Problems arise if a family has gone 'underground' with false names to hide ethnicity, illegal immigration or a criminal past. Other records have been destroyed during four decades of war. Illegal immigration from China, Cambodia and India was common in the south before the communist takeover in 1975. Many people are thought to have assumed new identities and intermarried, and records may have been confused as party cadres assumed control of the former South Vietnam. 'If people have used false names and avoided the normal registers we face problems,' one source said. 'Few countries would take anybody like that.'