Ex-China Viets dream of emigrating

VIETNAMESE illegal immigrants from China yesterday said they wanted to emigrate to a third country.

Hong Kong officials want to send the 2,194 migrants back to Beihai in Guangxi province as soon as possible. But the men and women in Chi Ma Wan detention centre said they had no intention of going back.

Some said they had relatives overseas and wanted to join them. Others said there was nothing left for them in Beihai after their homes were bulldozed by local authorities and they, too, wanted to go to a third country.

The Australian and US consulates-general yesterday confirmed that relatives of residents and citizens could be given preferential treatment to migrate. But, as the Vietnamese Chinese are not deemed to be refugees, they would have to return to China to apply for a visa for either country.

At Chi Ma Wan, a man in his 30s from Beihai said: ''I want to go to another country. Many of us have relatives in a third country and we want to be allowed to join them.'' In the same hut, each housing 260 people, a woman in her late 20s said she would not volunteer to return to Beihai because she would have to pay a large fine.

''My house was destroyed by the authorities but, because I don't have a house-moving certificate giving me permission to move, I would have to pay a fine of several thousand yuan before I could move into a new house,'' she said.

None of the immigrants seemed to know what the future held. The principal officer at the camp, Yim Wan-chuen, said all the inmates had been told they might be sent back to China, but that this was not a certainty.

But Secretary for Security Alistair Asprey said the immigrants had to be returned as soon as possible. ''Every day that we fail to return them simply acts more and more as a magnet for others to come to Hong Kong,'' he said after touring the camp with Correctional Services Commissioner Eric McCosh.

''We repeatedly stress to the Chinese authorities the urgent need for early repatriation but as yet we have not had a substantive reply.'' Yesterday, another 17 people were arrested after a boat was intercepted off Sha Chau.

A total of 2,194 people, believed to be Vietnamese Chinese illegal immigrants from Beihai, have arrived this year - 2,122 of them in the past five weeks. Yesterday, 270 Vietnamese boat people returned under the voluntary repatriation programme.

The Chinese charge d'affaires in London Zheng Jianjiang was summoned to the Foreign Office last night (Hong Kong time).

He was told by minister Mark Lennox-Boyd that the Beijing Government should take whatever steps it could to stem the continuing inflow of ethnic Chinese immigrants who formerly lived in Vietnam.

He insisted that China should speed up its procedures for their return.

Mr Zheng told the minister that the Chinese Government accepted what was happening but the processing of individuals was taking a long time.