Critics fear plan to return refugees will turn to force

November 06, 1991|By Abiodun Raufu | Abiodun Raufu,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government expects the repatriation of Vietnamese boat people from Hong Kong to be carried out without the use of force, an administration official said yesterday.

"The British are well aware of our position on mandatory and forced repatriation under current conditions in Vietnam," said Princeton Lyman, the State Department's director of refugee programs. "We will judge these procedures by what actually occurs." Under an agreement reached Oct. 29 between the British and Vietnamese governments, repatriations -- which critics say will inevitably involve the use of force -- are expected to begin next month. Up to 63,000 boat people are being held in Hong Kong camps.

In testimony yesterday before a House Asian and Pacific affairs subcommittee, groups concerned about the fate of the refugees urged the United States to pressure British and Hong Kong officials to suspend repatriation until voluntary methods can be agreed upon.

Mr. Lyman said, "I have seen the agreement, and it does not explicitly mention forcible return. However, the British have not yet given us the details of the procedures they will use to effect the return."

However, the president of the Indochina Resource Action Center, Le Xuan Khoa, expressed concern that if refugees, some of whom have threatened mass suicide or armed resistance if forcibly removed, do not leave voluntarily, there may be "use of force by the [Hong Kong] Police Tactical Units unless the U.S. government intervenes to prevent it from happening."

Asia Watch, one of the human rights organizations protesting the repatriation of the boat people, said that "a disturbing pattern of interrogation and low-level harassment of voluntary returnees has emerged," casting doubt on the promise made by the Vietnamese government not to "persecute" or "harass" returnees.

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