HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong is ending its 22-year-old policy of giving temporary haven to Vietnamese asylum-seekers and will treat them like other illegal immigrants.
Since shortly after the Vietnam War ended in 1975, all Vietnamese arriving in Hong Kong had the right to be screened for political asylum and appeal in court if rejected.
As of today, Vietnamese who arrive illegally will simply be held in detention until arrangements can be made with their government to send them back.
China, which has long opposed Hong Kong’s status as a “port of first asylum,” applauded Thursday’s announcement.
“Declaring Hong Kong as a port of first asylum was a decision single-handedly made by the British Hong Kong government,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Shen Guofang said in Beijing.
He said it was wrong “because it encouraged illegal immigration into Hong Kong, which could cause instability.”
In an unusual move, the Hong Kong government will enforce the change in immigration law as soon as it is published in the government gazette today, even though the legislature will need more time to endorse it.
Peter Lai, the secretary for security, told a news conference such speed was needed to prevent a last-minute flood of arrivals before the amendment can be approved by the legislature.
More than 1 million Vietnamese fled their homeland after communist North Vietnam defeated the U.S.-backed South in 1975. Most arrived penniless on foot or in boats in
neighboring countries, and were automatically given refuge in the West.