Vital talks to be held in Bangkok

CRUCIAL technical talks on the future of Hong Kong's Vietnamese refugees and others in the region will be conducted in Bangkok in June.

The announcement of the talks comes at a time when governments of first asylum countries for Vietnamese migrants are under increasing pressure to empty their camps by the end of next year under an international agreement reached in February.

Further meetings are planned for later in the year to resolve ways of repatriating the camps' majority non-refugees, presently living in first asylum countries.

Hong Kong is facing the largest problem by far, with a combined total of about 29,000 refugees and migrants compared to the next biggest population of 9,800 in Indonesia.

Camp workers and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) insiders said yesterday's raid by more than 1,200 police and CSD officers only served to highlight the dramas still to come in clearing the camps.

''Tensions have been simmering for some time as people in the camps wondered about what would happen to them, and now it has come to a head,'' one camp worker said.

''I can't believe that things are going to calm down, instead I think it is the beginning of what could become a very bloody few months.'' The UNHCR confirmed yesterday that talks would be held on June 2 and 3 in Bangkok to resolve a means of resettling refugees and unaccompanied minors.

The Bangkok talks on refugees will be attended by government delegates and UNHCR officials.

Many of the people still in the region who have been granted refugee status have been rejected by resettlement countries such as Canada, the United States and Australia.

Britain has closed its reception centre for refugees and is not expected to take any more.

The majority of the remaining refugees have been rejected because they do not meet the entry criteria for most countries.

In Hong Kong, about 1,800 refugees remain at the Pillar Point refugee camp - most of them have not been resettled because they have drug problems or criminal records.

China has said it will not accept these people when it assumes sovereignty in 1997.

Many of the refugees were given automatic refugee status prior to June 16, 1988, when a screening process was introduced to determine the status of asylum-seekers.

Other governments in the region have generally completed their refugee status determination process. Hong Kong has only a small group of people yet to undergo first instance screening.

Vietnamese asylum-seekers first began arriving in Hong Kong in 1979 and had a genuine fear of persecution by Vietnamese authorities. In the 1980s, many people left Vietnam with the motivation of resettlement rather than asylum.