Truong Xuan: Hong Kong received its first wave of Vietnamese refugees on 4 May 1975. A 3,743-strong refugee group was found arriving on board the Danish freighter Clara Mærsk and were accepted as refugees. Although the Hong Kong Government declared them "illegal immigrants", this arrival marked the start of a wave of refugee migrations to Hong Kong. Initially, Western governments shirked responsibility for resetling any refugees. In 1976, the Hong Kong Government applied to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for material aid and faster processing of resettlement requests. One year later, this first group of refugees, who had been under the responsibility of the Civil Aid Services, were entirely resettled in the United States, France, Germany, Australia, and Hong Kong.
Since 1975, some 122,724 Vietnamese refugees have arrived in Hong Kong. All have been offered temporary first asylum. No boat has ever been turned away. Refugees have lived in " open" camps while they waited for resettlement. They were allowed to work in Hong Kong.
Backed by a humanitarian policy of the Hong Kong Government, and under the auspices of the United Nations, some Vietnamese were permitted to settle in Hong Kong.
The illegal entry of Vietnamese refugees was a problem which plagued the Hong Kong government for 25 years. The problem was only resolved in 2000. Between 1975 and 1999, 143,700 Vietnamese refugees were resettled in other countries and more than 67,000 Vietnamese migrants were repatriated.
In the early 1990s, the Hong Kong government began an orderly repatriation programme. It began as a voluntary programme, but it was poorly received by the Vietnamese migrants, despite an agreement with the Vietnamese government that barred retributions against the migrants upon their return. Eventually, the Hong Kong government decided to forcibly repatriate the Vietnamese boat people.
The closing of the last Vietnamese Refugee camp here on Wednesday May 31, 2000 will finally bring down the curtain on a drama spanning 25 years, leaving behind memories many would rather forget.
When the gates close at midnight May 31, 2000, the Pillar Point refugee camp in Tuen Mun, in Hong Kong's southwestern New Territories, will bo no more, officially ending the long-running Vietnamese refugee saga.