by Murray White
BRITAIN should be prepared to take in people left stateless after Hong Kong's return to China in five years time, declared the bishops of England and Wales ' this week.
In a detailed discussion paper ' just published, the Bishops voice concern for human rights in Hong Kong both now and after the hand-over in 1997. Their fears are especially focussed on the future of the colony's many migrant workers and the plight of the ' Vietnamese boat people.
' Catholics in this country should be prepared to speak up for the rights of migrants and refugees who may be forced to flee Hong Kong after the expiry of Britain's 99-year lease, the bishops say.
The paper, first prepared by the bishops' Department for International Affairs at their recent Low Week meeting, also calls for the British Government to ensure that China maintains the rule of law and respects democratic rights.
The bishops' statement comes as Catholic politician Chris Patten makes final preparations before flying out next month to take on his new role as the colony's last Governor. Mr Patten faces perhaps his greatest political challenge in ensuring a smooth and peaceful hand-over.
Much of his and Foreign Office efforts could well be geared towards allaying the fears of the several thousand British
expatriates and other residents not of Chinese descent living in Hong Kong.
The bishops warn that "confidence in the rule of law is essential for the human rights and well-being of the people of Hong Kong." They feared that the Bill of Rights, agreed by the Hong Kong and British governments in 1984, might be ignored or abused by Chinese authorities.
"Guarantees are required that internationally recognised standards will be respected after 1997," said the bishops' statement.
Fr Robert Beresford, secretary of the Bishops' Committee for International Justice and Peace, said that China's separation from the 1966 International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, "may create anomalies.
"The Bill withholds for a period of one year a series of provisions protecting human rights during search, arrest, detention, and seizure, with the possibility of extension for another year," he said.
Cardinal Wu of Hong Kong has pledged that, with support from the international Catholic community, the needs of Catholics will be met.
A 1984 agreement between the British and Chinese governments will turn the tiny but heavily developed Hong Kong into a special administrative region of China. This status is designed to allow the region to keep its distinctive character.