Philippines set to close Bataan transit centre

THE Philippines has insisted it will close another chapter of the Vietnamese refugee saga as soon as the last couple of hundred refugees in Hongkong have used up the visa quota for the Bataan transit centre.

However, the Hongkong Government said the move would change the terms of the international agreement under which the territory agreed to become a port of first asylum.

It also could increase the time and cost of hosting refugees in Hongkong while they waited to be resettled.

Philippine Consul General Antonio Villamor said less than 200 visas were left on the quota of 5,000 which the Philippines had set, and this was unlikely to be extended.

''We have done our bit, the Philippines has done more than most countries. There is little chance it will be extended,'' Mr Villamor said.

It agreed several months ago to re-issue 700 visas which the Hongkong Government claimed had been issued but not used.

Government spokesman Peter Randall said the transit centre had been part of an international agreement to ensure ports of first asylum did not have to host boat people for long periods after they were granted refugee status.

''Bataan was established as a staging post to help clear people out of the ports of first asylum, so there should continue to be a staging post,'' he said.

The Government is expected to continue urging the Philippines to keep Bataan open.

The Philippines originally offered to establish the centre for refugees headed to a third country, if Vietnam established a resettlement centre for returnees.

However, Vietnam has not done this and the Philippines set the quota.

The Bataan centre has been used for four years to help refugees make a transition from life in detention to life in a resettlement country.

The United States Consul and the Canadian Commission said they could probably resettle more refugees directly from Hongkong.