Last Updated: Thursday, 27 October 2016, 16:19 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Hong Kong

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1998
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Hong Kong, 1 January 1998, available at: [accessed 28 October 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


A total of 14,862 Vietnamese repatriated from Hong Kong during 1996, leaving only 7,640 Vietnamese asylum seekers in Hong Kong. Of those remaining, 1,345 were recognized as refugees. Of the 6,295 who were not considered refugees, 5,529 were screened out (determined not to be refugees under the Comprehensive Plan of Action, or CPA), and 766 arrived after the cut-off date for CPA screening. Hong Kong continued to detain screened-out Vietnamese at the Whitehead and High Island Detention Centers.

Although UNHCR terminated assistance to camps for Vietnamese asylum seekers in the other first asylum countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand) in June 1996, it agreed to extend assistance to Vietnamese in Hong Kong due to the large number who remained there. However, the Hong Kong authorities and UNHCR remained under pressure to complete the repatriation of all the Vietnamese by June 30, 1997. The government of the People's Republic of China, which will reassume control of Hong Kong from Britain on July 1, 1997, has consistently said that it wants all Vietnamese refugees and asylum seekers out of Hong Kong by that date.

To achieve that, in 1996 Hong Kong greatly expanded its use of the Orderly Return Program (ORP), under which it returns Vietnamese involuntarily, in some instances using force to do so. In the four-year period 1992 through 1995, Hong Kong repatriated some 2,272 Vietnamese through the ORP. In 1996, it involuntarily returned 6,722 through the program. Newspaper reports suggested that, in 1996, the Hong Kong authorities had resorted to the use of force to implement its ORP program more often than in previous years.

Another 8,140 Vietnamese agreed to return home under UNHCR's voluntary repatriation program in 1996. That total was higher than the number who repatriated voluntarily in 1995 (1,673) or 1994 (5,581), but less than the number who returned voluntarily in 1993 (12,300) or 1992 (12,570).

Ensuring that all Vietnamese are out of Hong Kong by July 1997 will be difficult. The government of Vietnam has yet to approve the repatriation of many of the boat people in Hong Kong, and has already said that it will not accept the return of some of the screened-out Vietnamese because it does not consider them Vietnamese citizens. Also, some or all of the resettlement countries have rejected the applications for resettlement of many of those who do have refugee status.

In March, Britain's Privy Council, Hong Kong's final court of appeal, ordered the Hong Kong authorities to release 15 screened-out Vietnamese, all ethnic Chinese who held Taiwanese travel documents and were unlikely to be accepted back by Vietnam. The Privy Council described the continued detention of the group, given the unlikelihood of their being allowed to return to Vietnam, "an affront" to civilized society. Shortly afterward, Hong Kong released more than 200 other Vietnamese with similar backgrounds.

Protests Continued In May, between 100 and 200 Vietnamese due to be repatriated broke out of the Whitehead Detention Center, scene of numerous violent confrontations between the Hong Kong authorities and Vietnamese asylum seekers in recent years. More than 3,000 of the then-8,000 detainees at Whitehead reportedly participated in the protest that led to the break out. During the protest, detainees set fire to buildings in the camp that housed the detainees' records. Dozens of people were injured during the protest. Most of the escaped Vietnamese were quickly recaptured.

In June, the Hong Kong authorities imprisoned more than 50 Vietnamese following further violence at Whitehead. In August, a Vietnamese detainee scheduled for repatriation died after climbing a water tower and either jumping or falling to his death. The man was one of 1,000 Vietnamese due to be repatriated, 700 of whom left the detention center without incident, but 300 of whom temporarily barricaded themselves in their dormitories.

Chinese Takeover Many Hong Kong residents, uncertain about the city's future under Chinese rule, either have left Hong Kong or have applied for British travel documents, which although in most cases do not grant right of residence in Britain, will permit people to travel out of Hong Kong after July 1997. In March, as many as 20,000 people lined up outside the immigration department in a single day to apply for the documents. Reportedly, more than 600,000 of Hong Kong's 6.2 million residents hold such documents. The future is particularly uncertain for an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 residents of Hong Kong, many originally from India or other former British colonies, who will not be entitled to Chinese citizenship.

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