Orphan Ha fears life on Viet streets

VIETNAMESE orphan Ngo Van Ha has spoken out on his hopes for an American university education and his fears of becoming a homeless ''dust boy'' in Vietnam.

The 16-year-old is waiting in Hong Kong's Whitehead detention centre while United Nations officials decide whether he will grow up in California or northern Vietnam.

Ha has pleaded with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to allow him to join relatives in Los Angeles, rather than repatriate him to live with an uncle in Vietnam.

Ha said camp authorities had told him little about his situation. Supporters have translated Sunday Morning Post articles on Ha's case and stapled them into a small book for him.

''It's very sad inside Whitehead; there are no friends, no school,'' Ha told the Sunday Morning Post yesterday.

''I'm very worried about the UNHCR decision and worry that I have no future if I go back to Vietnam.


''There will be no school and I will not have a place to live.

''My uncle's previous abuse and mistreatment will continue,'' he said.

''I will then be forced to live in the street with other homeless boys - 'dust boys'. If sent to Vietnam, I will simply live on the streets and search for work.'' The teenager said his schooling was on hold while he waited in the Whitehead departure quarters, but he was learning to type and practising his English.

''I will continue learning. After high school I would like to attend university,'' Ha said.


''I particularly like mathematics - perhaps I could study that in university.'' Ha hoped he would spend his 21st birthday at university in the United States.

''My family in California will provide a loving atmosphere.


''My Uncle Vu's daughter, Tram, is my age and I hope that I can attend high school with her.'' Ha said he was very worried about his young brother Binh, 15, and sister, Thu, 13, who were reportedly scraping a living on the streets instead of staying with their uncle.

''Life will be very difficult. They don't and won't receive a proper education and they lack parents' love,'' he said. ''Their future will be dark.'' UNHCR head of mission Jahanshah Assadi said his agents in Ho Chi Minh city were searching for Ha's brother and sister to verify reports they had been thrown out of their uncle's home.

''I haven't heard anything from Vietnam yet,'' Mr Assadi said yesterday.


''I've asked them to give me a proper and thorough report - I don't want little tidbits here and there. That's why, I guess, it's taking some time.'' One of Ha's Hong Kong lawyers said the boy nourished hopes of living with the Californian relatives who want him to join their family. ''I'm worried, if it's denied him, about what will happen to his mental state,'' the lawyer said.

Tai A Chau residents, who staged a sit-in and hunger strike on January 15 when Ha was dragged from the camp, are now planning a demonstration on Tuesday in protest at a proposed new UNHCR repatriation policy.

A UNHCR meeting in Geneva on February 14 will introduce a ''non-objectors'' scheme to supplement the voluntary repatriation programme. Under the new rules, Vietnamese will be sent home unless they actively object to repatriation.


Tai A Chau detainees - all from South Vietnam - fear recrimination if they return.

''No one in Tai A Chau will eat at all next Tuesday,'' a source said.

''They will sit and sing their national anthems and it will all be very peaceful. They just want their voices to be heard.'' After February 14, groups of detainees will take four-day shifts to go on hunger strike and all camp residents will sing the national anthem at 9.30 am daily.