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Refugees (Hong Kong)

Volume 79: debated on Friday 24 May 1985

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11.45 am

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about the conditions in closed camps in Hong Kong and the policy that led to them.

One hesitates to talk about records in the House, because no doubt something similar has happened in the dim and distant past, but it must be unprecedented to have had three Adjournment debates on the same subject within about 14 days. It is also worth noting that those debates were raised by representatives of all the major parties. That must show the deep concern of hon. Members about the closed camp policy in Hong Kong.

I pay tribute to the hon. Members who raised the matter. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) did so in the context of problems suffered by the relatives of his constituents. Last week, the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Best) raised broader aspects of the problem, presumably wearing his hat as the respected chairman of the British Committee for Refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) has also taken a great interest in the subject and spoken about it on the Floor of the House. The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) is here today, and will no doubt wish to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, later.

I wish to discuss the specific British policy that led to the closed camps and the conditions inside the camps. If my tone is sharper than we have heard in previous debates on the subject, that is because the impressions that I gained when I visited the camps are with me still. With other hon. Members, I visited Hong Kong last year to assess for myself the problems relating to the future of the territory. During my stay, I visited Chi Ma Wan closed camp. I should tell the House that that visit left an indelible and powerful impression on me — an impression of some anger and shame. I was deeply shocked by the conditions in the closed camps.

As one who speaks Chinese, who has served in the forces in the far east and has a fair knowledge of conditions there, I am aware of general living conditions in poor countries such as Vietnam. However, despite that, I left Hong Kong appalled by the way in which the people in the closed camps were being treated, and ashamed that I, as a British Member of Parliament, was the person ultimately responsible for it.

I shall have some harsh words to say about conditions in the camps and about the policy that created and sustains them. I say at the outset, however, that the responsibility rests not with the Government of Hong Kong, but with the British Government. I have many reservations about the closed camp policy instituted by the Hong Kong Government, but I understand why they instituted it. I am also fully aware that the people of Hong Kong, as was clearly shown in the recent legislative council debate, believe that the closed camp policy was right and should continue. It is easy for us, living in the United Kingdom where the population density is 230 per sq km, to call for the camps to be abolished. If one lived in Hong Kong, where the density is more than 20 times higher — an average of 4,972 per sq km — one would see things differently.

Hon. Members may not know what an average of 4,972 people per sq km looks like, so let me give them a graphic illustration. Assume that this Chamber, together with the Public and Press Galleries was in Hong Kong's most crowded district, Sham Shui Po. It would then be the home for more than 70 people. Put another way, rather more than a tenth of the number of hon. Members who find it so uncomfortable to crowd into this Chamber to listen to an hour's Budget speech would make this same space the place they use to make their whole daily lives.

Given that level of overcrowding, it is scarcely surprising that Hong Kong does not feel able to offer refuge for all who come to its shores as a first point of asylum and it is scarcely remarkable that it had to institute a closed camp policy and, in the absence of international assistance, on a greater scale than we have seen, now wishes to see that policy continue.

It may be that the closed camps were a necessary temporary, emergency measure to start with, but we have allowed them to become permanent institutions. That is confirmed by the answer given to me by a Minister last Wednesday. It reveals that the population of the closed camps, now about 6,000, has remained static for six consecutive years and, at the present level of off-take, will still exist in 10 years'. For many in the camps, there is no hope of immediate release. The closed camps have become for them—and for us, if we were honest about it—not a temporary stopgap, but a permanent or semipermanent fact of the tragedy of the Vietnamese refugees.

That is a disgrace and one for which the primary responsibility rests on the British Government, not the Hong Kong Government. It is the British Government who, far from showing the lead in taking refugees, have taken fewer than any other nation participating in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' resettlement programme. In 1984, we took only 17 refugees, one twentieth of those taken by the United States, one twelth of those taken by the Australians and one quarter of those taken by the Canadians. In 1983, Britain took on 2·4 per cent of resettled refugees, compared with 49 per cent. taken by the United States, 21 per cent. taken by Australia and 5 per cent.—more than double ours—taken by Sweden. Overall to date, the United States has taken 20 times as many Vietnamese refugees than Britain, France has taken five times as many, Australia has taken nearly four times as many, Canada has taken nearly three times as many, and even West Germany has taken more than we have. Why is it that Britain, which has most responsibility in this matter, has carried least of the burden?

Britain's refusal to shoulder the burden is now undermining the rest of the UNHCR programme. The United States Government said in evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee:
"Absent of an effort to substantially increase the U.K. offtake from Hong Kong, the U.S. Government is unlikely to review its current policies and practice regarding acceptance of these refugees above the levels currently projected".
The Australian Government similarly stated in evidence to the Select Committee that they regard it as "essential" to share internationally the burden of resettling the refugees from Hong Kong, and that in view of this and the policies of the United States, it would seem that a renewed commitment by the United Kingdom to resettlement of Indo-Chinese refugees from Hong Kong would be a precondition for any co-ordinated international effort to address the Hong Kong situation.

Mr. Poul Hartling, United Nations Commissioner, has recently called on Britain to
"take an initiative that would encourage other countries to take more."
The Select Committee on Home Affairs has made a similar plea and we, to use the words of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn,
"eagerly await the Government response"—[Official Report, 14 May 1984; Vol. 79, c. 299.]
Let there be no doubt that that response is long overdue. The Government's disgraceful tardiness in this matter has caused the sense of permanent incarceration, of hopelessness and despair which exists in the camps.

In that sense, the Government are also responsible for the problems which have occurred in the camps themselves. The Minister upbraided me for describing the situation in the camps as a "disgrace" on Wednesday. But I stick to that word and I hope to give it substance in this debate.

In fact, the term "closed camps" is little more than a slick euphemism. The camps are made up of tin huts, surrounded by high barbed wire reminiscent of a prisoner of war camp—it was that impression which struck me most powerfully and moved me most when I visited them. They are guarded day and night. They are administered, not by social workers, but by the prison service of the Hong Kong Government. Refugees do not have the right to go out without a pass; they are subject to being searched; their mail is censored; none of the refugees in these "closed camps" have any rights to recourse under British or Hong Kong law; they cannot take any question of ill-treatment or abuse to any court for a hearing. For those who are in any way disruptive, a punishment of up to 28 days' solitary confinement can be imposed on people who came to us as refugees fleeing from oppression.

It is quite untrue, as some have claimed, that the inmates of the closed camps are ill-fed and poorly housed. Their basic needs are reasonably well catered for; indeed, their physical conditions may be marginally better than some of Hong Kong's squatter population. But they are crowded together in cramped conditions, they are without their freedom, and many of them are without hope Some have been in the camps for more than four years, many are desperate and a few are understandably furious at having ended up incarcerated in Hong Kong after having paid fortunes and after having seen some of their relatives and friends pay with their lives to escape from the tyranny in Vietnam.

The boat people are at the end of their tether. It is reported that there have been a number of suicides. During Christmas 1981, a violent riot broke out in one camp. In the spring of 1982 in another camp, refugees from North and South Vietnam fought each other in what a respected local paper described as "bloody battles".

The refugees on Hei Ling Chau began a hunger strike in July 1984 to remind the world of their existence—a representative from the UNHCR and of the Hong Kong Government went to the camp to persuade them to end their strke. They did so only after 200 of them had been hospitalised. That was a cry of despair and impotence to the rest of the world. But it did not even interest the media or the organisations formerly so ready to organise solidarity campaigns for the boat people.

Mrs. Elsie Elliott, CBE, a Hong Kong councillor and widely respected in Hong Kong as an authentic voice in local affairs, especially on human rights, has told roe that she has evidence that drug abuse has gone up in the camps by over 500 per cent. in two years. I will read the House a letter that I recently received from Mrs. Elliott, describing those conditions:
"In late February, I interviewed about ten refugees who knew something of both open and closed camps, they themselves being in an open camp. I was introduced to them by a Government servant who wishes not to be named. He arranged a meeting place and an interpreter. There I learned about the increasing drug problem, the demoralisation of the young people, and the air of hopelessness.
At another meeting with European teachers from an open camp, I learned that the whole system is kept intact by a policy of intimidation. Any teacher or other outside worker at the camp is sacked if he/she makes a complaint. One of them was sacked for mentioning that the science laboratory in the school was only a showpiece for visitors, never used. I have asked him to write to you with any information he may have.
A few days ago, a Vietnamese who was recently resettled in Australia wrote imploring me to try to help the people in the camps, as any measures against drug abuse are weak and ineffective. He said that drug traffickers from outside were not being cracked down on, and the inmates take drugs, gamble and fight out of utter frustration.
On a TV interview a few days ago, Dr. Karl Stumpf, who is engaged on resettling refugees, did not deny my allegations when questioned about them. He did say that the Vietnamese are not more prone to crime than others, but being detained was frustrating. He also made the remarkable statement that the people in the camps here 'have to suffer' in an effort to stop other refugees coming.
I also met with a group of Catholic missionaries. They deplored the lack of human rights and said they would get wide support for the campaign to find a way to release the refugees".
In a report submitted to a meeting of Governments in 1984, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees clearly referred to the Hong Kong closed camps when he said:
"while it will thus be seen that there may be situations both with regard to individual asylum-seekers and to large scale influx, in which measures of detention may be justified, this is not the case were asylum-seekers are detained with the sole object of discouraging further arrivals. It has become evident that in certain countries the refugees are frequently confined in prison or under prison-like conditions for prolonged periods of time in accordance with a policy of so-called humane deterrence. Needless to say, practices of this kind—given their underlying motivation—are at variance with the principles of international protection".
The present United Nations High Commissioner, Mr. Poul Harding, visited the newly opened Bowring closed camp a week or so ago. Despite the fact that conditions in Bowring are immeasurably better than in the older camps, the high commissioner still described them as offending human dignity.

Things are not getting better in the closed camps—Mrs. Elliot tells me that she thinks that they are getting worse. She quotes as an example the case of a 15-year-old boy who was put in solitary confinement for no more than answering back a camp official. She tells me that she has brought this incident — with others alleging sexual harassment, drug abuse and violence—to the attention of the Hong Kong authorities. She has been asked to supply independent evidence, but this she cannot do for fear of exposing the inmates. As she puts it:
"They are really terrified and there is always the threat that they are not going to get rehabilitated if they do not behave in the way they are told".
Surely, in the light of what has happened, there is now enough evidence to investigate these allegations more thoroughly than seems to have been done so far.

The real issue is one of morality. How do the Government justify putting people whose only crime is that they have escaped from oppression into what is effectively a prison? Whatever the excesses of the Vietnamese Government in oppressing their people and causing them to risk their lives to reach Hong Kong, is it not a disgrace on this Government and, indeed, on us as Members of Parliament that we should permit people who have no rights, who have been persecuted and who have turned to us for protection to suffer the indignities which are the daily lot of those in the closed camps of Hong Kong?

What do the Government intend to do about this stain on Britain's standing as a compassionate and civilised nation?

First, what do the Government intend to do about the resettlement? Will the Minister announce today that Britain will carry her share of the burden of resettling the refugees? Will he undertake the task of relaunching the UNHCR initiative with a commitment from Britain which will stimulate other nations to continue their programmes, so that those in the camps can have some hope for the future and we who are responsible for them can look forward to the day when closed camps are a thing of the past and a burden that we no longer have to carry on our consciences?

Secondly, what do the Government intend to do about the present conditions in the camps? The British Refugee Council recommends that if the policy has to continue sweeping reforms should be made. Husbands and wives separated by the closed camp policy should no longer be forced to live apart, those single men at present segregated in the special closed camps should be reintegrated, administration of the camps should be handed over to a more appropriate body than the correctional services department, which is the Hong Kong prison service, and the refugees should be given a far greater role in the running of services.

The British Refugee Council also recommends that voluntary agency involvement in the camps should be reviewed and non-evangelical agencies offered a greater role and that normal and expeditious use of postal services and adequate educational and training facilities should be provided. Those are sensible if minimal suggestions which in most cases are supported by the Select Committee. Will the Minister put them into practice?

Let there be no doubt that the fact of the closed camps and the conditions that have been allowed to prevail within them are the responsibility of the House and especially of the Government. It is an indictment of all of us that such conditions have been allowed to exist in our name for so long. What are the Government going to do about it?

12.4 pm

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) for allowing me to take part in this debate. I join the hon. Gentleman and the Select Committee in expressing the hope that the closed camps will be closed down as soon as possible. I accept the general thrust of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but he will forgive me if I do not put the case in exactly the same terms.

We should remember, first, that we are not talking about immigrants — a subject which we debated yesterday—who have chosen of their own volition to leave their homelands. We are talking about people who have abandoned their possessions and fled their homes and countries because of the conditions there, often with no idea what has happened to the relatives they left behind. Many of these people simply got into boats to sail wherever wind and tide took them to escape the conditions in which they were living. All that they ask is that which we take for granted—freedom to be educated, to seek work and to find housing and freedom of speech and of worship.

The closed camp problem must be seen in context. In the past 10 years, 100,000 Vietnamese refugees have arrived in Hong Kong. Not one has been turned away. I visited Hong Kong when the problem first arose a few years ago. The procedure was as follows: the refugees were initially accommodated at the waterside; they were then taken to transit camps in Hong Kong, whence in due course they were settled abroad — in the United Kingdom, continental Europe, North America and south-east Asia, some 14,300 of them being accepted by Hong Kong itself.

Three years ago, the outflow reduced almost to a trickle although the inflow continued. There are still 11,200 refugees in Hong Kong. Let us not underestimate the heavy burden this has placed on the Hong Kong Government and people. Since 1979, the Hong Kong Government have spent 475 million Hong Kong dollars on running the centres and feeding the refugees, in addition to the sums contributed by voluntary agencies and the United Nations. Moreover, all this has taken place in a country in which, as the hon. Member for Yeovil graphically described, the population density can scarcely be imagined by people here.

We must also remember the point of view of the Hong Kong people. They see refugees from mainland China with whom they have family and cultural links being sent back, while the Vietnamese refugees are accepted without reserve. That is the situation in which the closed camps were established. The hon. Gentleman suggested that this happened six years ago, but I believe that it was only three years ago. The purpose was quite openly to deter the number of refugees coming into Hong Kong, and that has been the effect. The number of refugees coming in has declined sharply. The fact that some continue to arrive in Hong Kong knowing full well that they will have to live in closed camps in the conditions described by the hon. Member for Yeovil illustrates the repressive nature of the regime from which they have fled.

The closed camps are not ideal. Although they are not prisons, they are tantamount to prisons to the extent that entrance and exit is severely controlled and there are necessarily regulations within a closed community of that kind. I do not dispute the hon. Gentleman's quotations from the United Nations High Commissioner, but I believe that Mr. Hartling also made some complimentary remarks. Having visited the camps, he said that what he found was encouraging and that he appreciated the difficult circumstances in which the camps had to operate.

About half the refugees, of course, are in open camps where conditions are also far from ideal. They are described as transit camps because that was their original purpose. I must declare a personal interest. My son has just spent nine months working in one of those camps with the refugees. He saw the overcrowded conditions in which the refugees have to live. The refugees have no privacy. The children are bitten by rats as they sleep. Disease is inevitably transmitted. That is the best that can be done in the difficult circumstances existing in what was intended to be a transit centre.

For my son, we are not just talking about 11,000 refugees; we are talking about real people with names. We are talking about Nguyen Van Vinh and his son Nguyen Ba Vie, who have been in the camp since 1980. They have little prospect of being able to join the rest of their family in the United States. We are talking about people like Nguyen Van Luy, a 17-year-old who has been there for three years, unable to join a brother in Belgium.

I could cite many other cases. They suggest the only answer to the problem, which is resettlement. Shutting down the camps while taking no other action would not solve the problem. It would exacerbate it.

The United Kingdom has a good record in accepting refugees. I do not think it is entirely fair for the hon. Member for Yeovil to make comparisons with other countries without drawing attention to the different conditions in other countries in terms of the density of population, the availability of housing and so on.

I vividly recall the problems that arose when the previous wave of refugees arrived here. I was working closely with the then Home Secretary, Lord Whitelaw. We sought the co-operation of the local authorities in finding accommodation for the refugees.

A number of other countries have given strong indications that they are prepared to help to solve this international problem. However, they look to us. The United Kingdom has a special relationship with Hong Kong, and we must give the lead. If we agree to accept some of the refugees, other countries will follow.

One can draw a comparison with immigrants who wish voluntarily to leave their own country and come here. To whom have we the greater obligation—the immigrants, or the refugees who have nowhere else to go and face an uncertain future in the conditions that the hon. Gentleman has described?

The Government are considering the report of the Select Committee. I congratulate the Select Committee on the manner in which it reviewed the problem and put forward its proposals. Clearly one cannot expect an immediate response, but I hope that the relevant Government Departments are considering the recommendations closely and will take firm action. That is what we owe to the Government and the people of Hong Kong. That is what we owe to people such as Nguyen Van Vinh, Nguyen Ba Vie and Nguyen Van Luy in both the closed and the open camps in Hong Kong.

12.15 pm

There is no doubt about the importance of the whole problem of Vietnamese refugees, or about the difficulties that we face in connection with the need since the middle of 1982 to maintain closed camps in Hong Kong. I quite agree with the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) about the importance of these issues. I congratulate him on raising the matter in this debate. As he said, this is the third debate on the subject in three weeks. That shows how much strength of feeling there is in the House about the matter.

It is clear that the hon. Gentleman has a heart—and I hope that he will agree that we all have a heart. I hope that the hon. Gentleman also has a head. I feel that on this occasion he has allowed his heart to dominate his head to some extent. I do not deny for a moment that conditions in the closed camps are unsatisfactory. I have said on several occasions that the situation is unsatisfactory and we want to end it as soon as possible. However, we must see the issue against the reality of the background not only of Hong Kong's problems—which are major, as the hon. Gentleman acknowledged — but of the United Kingdom's problems. To a considerable extent, the Select Committee acknowledged and investigated those problems.

I also welcomed the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims). My hon. Friend, too, spoke with strong feeling and on a personal basis. The fact that his son has worked in one of the camps adds weight to what he had to say.

The matter must be seen against the background of the Select Committee's report. The Government are studying the report with great care. The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to reply to those recommendations in an Adjournment debate—although he expressed the hope that I might. The Government are considering the recommendations with the greatest care and intend to reply as soon as possible. We are fully aware that it is a matter of urgency. I cannot therefore reply directly to the hon. Gentleman's challenge to say what the Government's reaction is to the report. However, I can pick up many of the points that the hon. Gentleman has made.

It would be wrong to examine the issue of the closed camps in Hong Kong without considering their root cause. Clearly, the problem derives from conditions in Vietnam, which are clearly totally and utterly oppressive. Vietnam has the third largest army in the world. It occupies another country—Cambodia. It has a terrible record on human rights; thousands of people are kept in re-education camps without charge or trial for years on end. Over a million refugees have left the country since 1975, and in the past year no fewer than 25,000 Vietnamese have fled by boat to various parts of the world. Those figures are a massive condemnation of what is happening in Vietnam today. That flow of refugees will stop only when that country adopts a more civilised policy towards human beings who live there. With the rest of the international community, we shall do what we can to persuade Vietnamese to improve their human rights policy.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Yeovil and my hon. Friend paid tribute to Hong Kong's achievements in this field. Hong Kong has given temporary asylum to over 100,000 refugees since 1975. In 1979, at the height of the crisis, over 68,000 boat people arrived in Hong Kong. None have been turned away. At his press conference in Hong Kong on 14 May, the United Nations High Commissioner, Mr. Hartling, said:
"We are very grateful to Hong Kong—to the authorities, the Government here and to the people because Hong Kong has given asylum and never, never refused to give asylum to refugees coming here and never forced them back against their will, and treated them well, but of course, they would like as we would like to see a solution—a durable solution, for these refugees." The Government certainly share Mr. Hartling's views.
The closed camps are one of the sad aspects of the Indo-Chinese refugee problem. In an ideal world, there would be no refugee camps, closed or open. As I said in my evidence to the Select Committee on 4 February and reiterated in the debate on 14 May, the position of having 5,600 refugees in closed camps and an equal number in open camps is such that no Minister can say that it is satisfactory or desirable. It is most certainly not. Refugee situations are certainly not ideal. How can they be? There is no perfect solution. However, we must be realistic. I ask the House to try to understand the Hong Kong Government's position on the matter, and to see the position within the special geographical and political circumstances of the territory.

Moreover, I must ask the hon. Gentleman to take into account another factor, which I believe is of importance. Other countries in the region, for example Thailand and the Philippines, have, reluctantly, found it necessary to run restricted camps of the same kind as the camps that we described in Hong Kong as closed camps in which, in the same way, the inhabitants are, regrettably, not free to move as they wish, and not free to work. Therefore, we must acknowledge that other countries are faced with a similar problem. Hong Kong is not the only country that has to grapple with it.

What are the reasons for the closed camps? Doubts have been expressed as to whether Hong Kong was justified in introducing the closed camp policy. There is no doubt in my mind about that because the figures speak for themselves. In July 1982, the month when the policy was introduced, arrivals reached their highest level for three years. Resettlement possibilities were diminishing sharply. The Hong Kong Government were faced with the prospect of the numbers in the camps rising to unmanageable levels, as they had done in 1979.

It is important to understand why that was particularly alarming for Hong Kong. The hon. Gentleman fully understands it, but I should like to repeat the reason. Hong Kong is one of the most crowded places in the world. It has a population of over 5 million in a territory of only 400 square miles, much of it barren hillside and rocky islets. Its population density is 20 times that of the United Kingdom. It has acute problems resulting from the large influx of immigrants from China in recent years. It continues to absorb large numbers of legal immigrants from China—27,700 in 1984. Illegal immigrants from China, however, are repatriated, although they often have family and cultural ties with the people of Hong Kong. That is an important point for the people of Hong Kong.

That is the context in which the people of Hong Kong see the Vietnamese problem. They therefore find it difficult to accept that the Vietnamese should be given what they regard as special treatment by being allowed to remain in the territory while awaiting resettlement. The closed camp policy was therefore introduced, and has been maintained with the full support of the people of Hong Kong. They felt that that was the only way to try to discourage the Vietnamese from setting out for Hong Kong.

The strength of Hong Kong feeling on the issue was demonstrated in the Adjournment debate of the Hong Kong Legislative Council on 15 May, as the hon. Gentleman may have noticed. A member of the council, Mrs. Selina Chow, said:
"The closed camp policy …came into force in July 1982 … Our treatment of Vietnamese refugees at the time was not in line with either policies of our other Asian countries, most of which had been operating closed camps … In the face of the only realistic options open to Hong Kong at the time regarding Vietnamese refugees, i.e. repatriation, refusal to land and the closed camps, the last was certainly the least inhumane". Those are the comments of a very distinguished member of the Legislative Council.
The question is whether that policy has worked. Doubts have been expressed about that. We must look at the figures. In 1981, before the start of the policy, Hong Kong arrivals increased by 25 per cent. over the 1980 levels, whereas those for the region as a whole increased by only 5 per cent. In 1982, Hong Kong arrivals went down by only 7 per cent. compared with the regional decline of 41 per cent. However, in 1983, after the closed camps policy had been introduced, and by which time it was fully implemented, Hong Kong arrivals were 53 per cent. less than those for 1982 compared with a regional decline of 36 per cent. In 1984 the Hong Kong decrease was 39 per cent., and that for the region only 11 per cent. That is clear evidence that the deterrent is working. It is the only deterrent available.

What is the future of that policy? It is an important matter. I stress that we regard it as a temporary measure. It is our objective to see those closed camps terminated as soon as possible. However, the fact is that there are factors outside Her Majesty's or the Hong Kong Government's control, which must ultimately dictate how long the closed camps will need to remain in being—the rate of arrivals from Vietnam and the rate of departures to countries of resettlement, which were two issues raised by the hon. Gentleman.

I refer to departures. It is true that closed camp policy would not have been necessary if the resettlement prospects for refugees in Hong Kong had not deteriorated so much in 1981 and 1982. I fully acknowledge that many other countries, such as Canada, the United States and Australia, have taken a considerable number of refugees. We are extremely grateful for that. Here in Britain we have taken over 12,000 from Hong Kong and Hong Kong has itself absorbed over 14,000 Indo-Chinese refugees. Since mid-1982, when the closed camps were introduced, 4,600 members of those camps have been resettled. However, many more resettlement places will have to be provided if homes are to be found for all the refugees who are still in Hong Kong and other places of first asylum. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Poul Hartling, will be coming to London on 5 June, and both I and my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, will be meeting him to discuss Hong Kong's problems. Resettlement will obviously be one of the subjects that we shall talk about.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst said, Britain's record must be aknowledged. We do not have a long historic connection with the Indo-Chinese region, yet we have taken nearly 20,000 refugees over the past six years. The hon. Member for Yeovil will have read the Select Committee's report, which shows the many difficulties that we have had in helping those refugees settle in this country. That factor must be taken fully into account. Yet, despite all that, we have taken just under 20,000, we continue to take some of the boat people, and have taken 12,000 from Hong Kong.

With regard to conditions in the camps, I shall look carefully at what the hon. Gentleman said. Because I shall not be able to answer every point that he raised, I shall make sure that I write a note to him with further comments on some of the specific conditions. I understand people's concern that refugees should not be confined to camps. However, I must say that Her Majesty's Government and the Hong Kong Government attach great importance to ensuring that refugees are adequately cared for within the camps. Mr. Hartling said that he did not like the idea of closed camps, but that inside the Bowring camp, he
"found the circumstances, the conditions, very encouraging." He compared the situation of the children at the Bowring camp with that of some of the refugees in other countries, who he said were starving, sick and destitute and had tears in their eyes. His conclusion was that the Hong Kong authorities and the voluntary agencies, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, were doing a very good job, for which he was very grateful. That was also my reaction when I visited the Chi Ma Wan camp in 1983.
On 15 May, Mr. Alan Lee, a Member of the Legislative Council, said:
"Just recently I went back to the Vietnamese refugee camps and I can say with a clear conscience that the treatment these Vietnamese refugees are getting in Hong Kong is better than a lot of people living in Hong Kong who are genuine Hong Kong residents."

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I should like to comment on some of his other points.

I understand what the hon. Gentleman says about overcrowding. I have seen the conditions for myself. The overall numbers of refugees are continuing to come down, albeit slowly. We want the pace to speed up. Overcrowding is beginning to be reduced. I ask the hon. Gentleman to compare such overcrowding in Hong Kong not with European standards but with Hong Kong standards. Some of the comments I have seen are a little unfair on the Hong Kong authorities. There has been an easing of the pressure, although the position is still not satisfactory.

We took careful account of the views expressed by the British Refugee Council. We have tried to do our best to implement some of its recommendations. We shall continue to listen carefully to any other representations, including those by the hon. Member for Yeovil, to ascertain whether we can improve and ease the conditions. That is certainly the priority of the Hong Kong Government. We have done a great deal in education and training—these aspects are improving all the time—to help people resettle in other countries. We certainly value the efforts of voluntary bodies.

I shall make a point of commenting later on the hon. Gentleman's views on the use of drugs in closed camps, because the remarks made were very wide of the mark. I shall give the hon. Gentleman a fuller comment on that.

I thank the hon. Member for Yeovil for raising this issue. I wish to re-emphasise that we do not want to maintain these camps any longer than absolutely necessary. We look forward to replying shortly to the Select Committee's report. It is a matter of priority for the Government to work towards a durable solution to this problem.