High Island camp closes after 9 years

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 May, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 May, 1998, 12:00am

The last inmates were moved from High Island Detention Centre yesterday, marking the closure of another chapter in the boat people saga.

From a peak of 64,300 Vietnamese asylum seekers in October 1991, the population has shrunk, allowing the Government to scale back its accommodation, shutting the last centre yesterday.

About 2,160 boat people are still in Hong Kong, living in an open refugee centre or in detention elsewhere. About 170 Vietnamese arrived this year.

The High Island camp in Sai Kung Country Park, scene of riots and breakouts, will be mothballed in case there is an influx of illegal immigrants, according to Deputy Secretary for Security Sally Wong Pik-yee.

Two forced repatriation flights took 267 former High Island inmates back to Hanoi yesterday. The deportation charters would continue as long as there were enough people to merit them, she said. After that, returnees might be sent home on commercial flights.

Discussions are continuing with Vietnamese officials to get them to accept the return of people that Hanoi has deemed 'non-nationals'. Talks are also under way with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees over the repayment of the $1.16 billion debt incurred by Hong Kong looking after the boat people.

'The Vietnamese Government has indicated it is willing to consider cases with new information so our colleagues in Security and Immigration are trying to collect as much information as possible about these migrants,' Ms Wong said.

Ms Wong officiated at yesterday's closure ceremony at High Island which she described as a happy and historic occasion. Amid potted plants specially brought in, officers lowered the flag of the Correctional Services Department which ran the camp from 1991.

More than 20,000 boat people have passed through its doors since it opened in 1989, then controlled by police, according to the camp's last chief, Superintendent Tong Shui-kwong.

Although one of his officers was taken hostage by detainees who also staged a mass breakout during his time in charge, Mr Tong said the Vietnamese were 'good people'.