Thanh lọc—Hong Kong’s refugee screening system: experiences from working for the refugee communities
With the demise of the former regime in the southern Republic of Vietnam in April 1975, and the subsequent re-unification of the nation as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, those Vietnamese seeking refuge and asylum abroad were initially regarded as ipso facto refugees under the Geneva Convention of 1951, on the grounds that their departure was caused by a well-founded fear of persecution on one or more of the grounds mentioned in the Convention. 2 These people were entitled under the Convention to be resettled in third-party countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, France, and a host of other nations. Over the next 20 years, more than 700,000 took advantage of this essentially openended international commitment, while an incalculable number perished in their endeavours to do so (UNHCR, 2000 : 98). 3
But by the late 1980s the situation had changed in two important respects. Firstly, significant numbers of asylum-seekers were leaving Vietnam not for reasons pertaining to well-founded fears of persecution, but rather from an understandable desire to escape from poverty and despair, and with the hope of forging a better life elsewhere. Some refugee advocates, and in particular politicized sections of the Việt Kiều community, repudiated the suggestion that some of the asylum-seekers were economic migrants, maintaining the position previously sponsored by the United States in particular, that flight from Vietnam of necessity involved flight from persecution under the Communist regime (Free Vietnam Alliance: n.d.).