VIETNAMESE refugees awaiting overseas resettlement are being employed by smuggling syndicates to sell contraband cigarettes on the streets. Customs and Excise Department figures show 23 refugees and one boat person have been arrested in the past three months for such offences. No similar arrests had been made previously. Most of the refugees had been granted asylum in other countries. Customs Senior Superintendent Ronny Tsang Hing-kam said: ''We noticed that the Vietnamese refugees might have got involved in the selling of dutiable cigarettes, and the situation became worse in April.'' The 24 Vietnamese comprised 11 men and 13 women. ''They were all employed by syndicates and received $250 to $300 a day,'' Mr Tsang said. He said the asylum offered to them would not automatically be forfeited or terminated despite the offence. The arrested Vietnamese refugees did not want to go overseas because they were concerned they could not make a living there, he said. Customs has notified the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees about the problem. Six of the Vietnamese were arrested in customs raids at the weekend in which 767,790 cigarettes, worth about $800,000 and with a duty potential of about $445,000, were seized. During the three-day operation which ended yesterday 64 people were arrested.