Vietnamese Children (Hong Kong)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:18 pm on 20th December 1990.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd Mr Mark Lennox-Boyd , Morecambe and Lunesdale 2:18 pm, 20th December 1990

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, and certainly it will be considered. However, it is going wide of the debate.

The pamphlets are appallingly irresponsible. They prolong to no purpose the detention of men, women and children at a time when the wherewithal exists for them to start a new life back in the communities which they left.

In the few minutes left to me, I should like to comment on the main subjects of the debate. If the ultimately hopeless period of waiting in the camps in Hong Kong is hard on adults, it is even harder on children. There are some 16,500 children under the age of 16 in Hong Kong, and special provision is made for them. They have special dietary scales and are provided with supplementary feeding to ensure that they are well nourished. Medical services, including the same free immunisation service for all babies and children as is provided for all Hong Kong children, are available in every centre. Any child requiring specialist treatment or hospitalisation is sent to outside hospitals, and arrangements are made for the parents to visit regularly.

During the 1989 influx many of the facilities provided for children had to make way for basic accommodation. However, as a result of the improvements this year, conditions are now much better. Education programmes include pre-school, primary and secondary levels. There is a library in each centre and access to educational videos is available to all. My hon. Friend commented on education for these children. Curricula taught in the detention centres are modelled on curricula taught in Vietnam. If more resources could be found, the quality of education would be improved, and we shall give some thought to that. English is taught in the camps to refugees to help them prepare for resettlement and to non-refugees. For the latter, the emphasis must be on Vietnamese because they will be returning to Vietnam.

The camp environment is far from ideal for children. There are play areas and open spaces with play equipment where possible. Donations of toys and gifts, especially at Christmas time, are distributed. Recreational programmes, including outings and excursions, are organised in co-operation with voluntary agencies.

My hon. Friend spoke of the Tai A Chau and the Chi Ma Wan camps. We believe that children are best cared for by responsible adults—their parents, adult relatives or temporary foster parents. Children inevitably tend to be spread throughout the camps. Tai A Chau is to be used as a camp for southerners. Consistent with that policy, the Hong Kong authorities intend to move as many children and unaccompanied minors as possible to Tai A Chau when the camp opens early next year. I am happy to say that the arrangements at Chi Ma Wan are being reviewed. We shall consider including families in that camp.

My hon. Friend was particularly concerned about unaccompanied children, of whom there are estimated to be 2,000 or more. Special committees responsible for them must be created in each country of first asylum. The committee in Hong Kong has operated since 19 April. It is charged with making a recommendation to the Hong Kong Government. So far, 663 cases have been submitted to the committee, which has reached a decision on 116 of them. Of those, 78 have been recommended for repatriation and 38 for resettlement.

My hon. Friend expressed concern at the committee's slow rate of progress. We and the Hong Kong Government share that concern and have urged the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' office in Hong Kong to speed up the committee's work.

Hong Kong has some 12,000 people who have been determined not to be refugees. They are no different from any other illegal immigrants—except that, inevitably because of the emotive history of the boat people and the Vietnam war, their deportation is a matter of contention. It is not fair to expect Hong Kong to continue to provide a temporary resting place. Nor is it fair to the people themselves to continue to hold out a false hope of resettlement.

We, the Hong Kong authorities, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will continue to work closely to achieve the orderly return of those people as soon as possible. I am confident that we have the basis of a durable and humane solution to this long-running problem. We will continue in our unflagging efforts to make it work.