HUNDREDS of ethnic Chinese who fled to their homeland from Vietnam 20 years ago are poised to sail for Australia. At least 120 of them will begin the voyage in a wooden fishing boat this week, the Sunday Morning Post can reveal. The move will add to the difficulties being faced by Australian immigration officials who have had to cope with the arrival of more than 300 Vietnamese boat people, mainly ethnic Chinese, in Darwin in less than a month. Officials in Australia have now called for security to be stepped up along the country's northern coastline. The latest batch of Cantonese-speaking asylum seekers mostly come from Beihai in Guangxi province. Last week they told the Sunday Morning Post three boats had left for Australia in the first two weeks of this month, and more would be following. 'A wooden fishing boat more than 20 metres long carrying 120 to 130 people will depart for Australia next week. If the weather is fine, [the journey] takes about 20 days,' one man said last week. He would only give his name as Zhang. China took in 280,000 refugees from Indochina in the late 1970s. Most were ethnic Chinese living in Vietnam who fled back across the border during the Sino-Vietnam War. Beihai alone accommodated 15,000 refugees. 'The United Nations built flats for us in 1980. But the Chinese Government said they were too old now and planned to knock them down early next year. We were asked to buy new flats nearby but they cost 700 yuan [HK$770] per square metre,' said another resident, Ng, who was considering leaving. 'The size of the new flats ranges from 30 to 50 square metres. How can we pay for that in a lump sum? Many of us now plan to smuggle ourselves out.' Mr Ng said the people wanting to leave would pay 5,000 yuan to the shipowner and another 3,000 to 4,000 yuan for necessities such as water, food and fuel. 'We have no choice. By selling our belongings, we can leave for Australia but we can't afford to buy the new house.' The Beihai refugees say they also resent the attitude of the Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers. 'We have no rights here. Sometimes we sit and chat but PSB officers suspect us of planning a smuggling trip. They can put us in jail without reason and ask our family to pay a few thousand dollars to free us,' Mr Zhang said. The refugees also said pregnant women were forced to have an abortion if they already had two children. 'I won't oppose my children's decision to leave. I hope they can have a better future in other countries,' Mr Zhang said. These people are no strangers to Hong Kong. Last year, more than 2,700 of them from six different provinces came to the territory by boat. They were labelled Ex-Chinese Vietnamese Illegal Immigrants (ECVIIs) by the Hong Kong Government to distinguish them from ordinary Vietnamese boat people. Repatriation came swiftly after an agreement was made between the Hong Kong and Chinese governments in August. 'Experience told us Hong Kong is not a good place to go to. The conditions in the Chi Ma Wan detention centre are so bad and overcrowded that people always fight - and we had to be repatriated. The same thing happened in Macau, Japan and Malaysia,' said Mr Ng, who had fled to Hong Kong and Macau five times and planned to go to Australia on the next boat. 'Fifty-three people were smuggled to Australia last year but not even one has been sent back, and many of them have already been granted refugee status. So most of us are planning to go to Australia now.' Last November, 53 ex-Chinese Vietnamese boat people in a boat called Pluto landed in Darwin. Forty-six were granted refugee status. One entered Australia on other grounds. Seven are still detained. Facing the pressure of the flood of Vietnamese boat people from China, Australian immigration minister Nick Bolkus said the Government must balance international humanitarian obligations with the need to protect the borders. 'We remain fully committed to our policy of detention of unauthorised arrivals pending determination of their claims for asylum,' he said.