by James Allen REFUGEE ACTION has urged Hong Kong to remedy the "'dehumanising and demoralising" conditions in its closed camps for Vietnamese refugees. It has also called on Britain to accept more Vietnamese as immigrants.
In a report published this week, the organisation said that the number of Vietnamese welcomed into Britain has fallen dramatically since the government fulfilled its 1979 commitment to accept 10,000 of the so-called boat people.
Last year only 44 Vietnamese refugees found a haven in Britain, compared to 1,721 in the United States, 1,302 in Canada and 329 in Australia.
There are about 4,000 refugees in the closed camps, into which Hong Kong authorities have steered all arriving Vietnamese since 1982. Unlike a similar number of earlier arrivals still staying in "open" camps, they cannot go outside for either work or recreation.
In February a delegation from Refugee Action, headed by a Catholic peer, Lord Chitnis, visited the closed camps, which are run by the Hong Kong prison service.
The British observers were dismayed by the military atmosphere inside the barbedwire enclosures. While living conditions could not be described as squalid, they said, little provision was made for the privacy of families or couples. The surroundings were barren, with few trees or grassy areas.
Education for both children and adults was described as inadequate.
If the camps could not be abolished, the report concluded, they should at least be managed internally by the inmates themselves. Refugee Action expressed concern for the unknown fate of the many Vietnamese who, when told they had to enter closed camps, decided to go elsewhere, accepting Hong Kong's offer of food, water and repairs for their boats. Of 2,000 who arrived by boat last year only half chose to stay.
Hong Kong authorities have justified the closed camps by saying they can no longer cope with the flood of boat people. But observers have suggested that it is not politically acceptable for the Vietnamese to be seen as receiving better treatment than refugees from mainland China, who are shipped back home in large numbers.
The flight of refugees was spurred initially by the fall of the South Vietnam regime in 1975 and showed a further upsurge during the border war with China in 1978.