A fight by hundreds of ethnic-Chinese Vietnamese to stay in Hong Kong has entered a crucial phase in the Court of Appeal. The 116 families are appealing against Mr Justice Frank Stock's refusal in April and September last year in the Court of First Instance to allow them a judicial review of a removal order by the Director of Immigration. They claim Mr Justice Stock erred in finding the director had no choice but to refuse them permission to remain in Hong Kong as refugees in June and October 1997. The families, comprising 290 people, also claim the judge was wrong in finding the mainland was suitable for their resettlement. The Court of Appeal heard on Tuesday that the families originally lived in China for about a decade after fleeing Vietnam between 1974 and 1983. They arrived in Hong Kong between 1989 and 1994 seeking asylum and resettlement. Until 1997, the families were held in detention pending removal and were not screened to assess their refugee status. But after the landmark case of Nguyen Tuan Cuong was argued before the Privy Council, it was ordered that all the applicants were to be properly screened. Counsel for the families, John Scott, SC, has told the court the Director of Immigration then recognised them as refugees under Section 13A(1) of the Immigration Ordinance, which would have granted them permission to stay in Hong Kong pending resettlement. But he said the director then ordered them, on the basis of the screening, to be removed to the mainland under Section 13(E) of the same ordinance. 'At the heart of these apparently bizarre and irrational decisions was the respondent's finding in each and every applicants' case that they had been fundamentally untruthful in recounting their life histories in the mainland,' Mr Scott said. He said the applicants had no idea during the screening process that the questions aimed at verifying their refugee status would also be used in the decision to remove them to the mainland. Mr Scott yesterday said Mr Justice Stock was wrong to rely on the evidence of immigration department decision-maker Choy Ping-tai, who oversaw the screening process. He said Mr Choy had concluded his clients had no right to stay in Hong Kong because they had been given sanctuary in China. This evidence contradicted his clients' statements that they were persecuted on the mainland and had sought protection in Hong Kong, Mr Scott said. The appeal continues today before Mr Justice Anthony Rogers, Madam Justice Doreen Le Pichon and Mr Justice Peter Cheung Chak-yau.