Hong Kong’s treatment of Vietnamese refugees came into international focus this week, as actor Ke Huy Quan recalled his detention at a refugee camp during his Oscar acceptance speech.
Born in Saigon in 1971, the actor and his family fled the Vietnam War in 1978, with some of them – including Quan – arriving at a refugee camp in Hong Kong before reuniting and settling in the US a year later.
Along with his five siblings and father, Quan would likely have been held at the now-abandoned temporary reception centre on Green Island.
Separated from Kennedy Town by the Sulphur Channel, the uninhabited island remains closed off to the public today.
However, the processing facility – now exposed to the elements and being reclaimed by nature – has a notorious history.
During a 1992 court hearing about conditions at the camp, one refugee – Nguyen Viet Hung – testified that their detention was a “terrible experience.” The court heard that inmates had chemicals poured on their heads, were forced to sleep on the floor for a week without blankets, suffered sickness and hunger, and had no fans or ventilation in their accommodation.
Reports of water and toilet paper shortages were denied by the then-second-in-command Pang Chung-yin, according to SCMP. The government ultimately admitted to falsely imprisoning Nguyen.
In 1995, 23 Vietnamese boat people escaped from the centre. Six more escaped through a hole in a roof in 1998.
In another court case in 1998, an official was convicted of tricking a refugee out of HK$31,000 by falsely promising him refugee status.
In 1998, Green Island Reception Centre was used to process illegal immigrants, a year after a court heard that officials had forced Vietnamese refugees to sign forms declaring they were seeking work, rather than asylum.
The Green Island centre was ultimately closed in 2011.
When Quan won Best Supporting Actor on Sunday night for his role as a goofy husband in Everything Everywhere All at Once, he said: “My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp, and somehow I ended up here, on Hollywood’s biggest stage.”
In all, over 200,000 Vietnamese refugees came through Hong Kong while the city was still under British rule, with most repatriated or resettled abroad.
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