A 42-year-old Vietnamese refugee who was jailed as a 15-year-old boy in Hong Kong has given up efforts to fight deportation, as the move appears to be his only shot at freedom.
Sentencing: Vo Van Hung was sentenced to life after killing another refugee in 1994. Though he finished serving his reduced sentencing in 2016 under a legislative amendment, he remains in detention due to his status as an illegal immigrant, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.
Vo arrived in Hong Kong in 1991 at the age of 12. He was brought by a man who claimed to be a relative but ended up abandoning him, leading Vo to end up at the Whitehead refugee detention center in Ma On Shan.
Three years later, Vo stabbed and killed another refugee during a fight at the center. He was found guilty and sentenced to life, unbeknownst to the minor who spoke neither English nor Cantonese.
Vo’s term was reduced to 29 years in 1998 after Hong Kong amended laws to prevent minors from receiving life sentences. He finished serving his time in 2016.
Vo, however, remains in detention five years later, this time at the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre (CIC). Incarcerated for nearly three decades, he has missed opportunities to legalize his status and become a resident, leading to a deportation order.
Fighting deportation: Vo is one of 18 Vietnamese nationals Hong Kong has deemed ineligible for resettlement for various reasons, including his imprisonment, according to HKFP. He initially fought deportation over fears of further persecution, but recently decided to give up.
Vo’s argument against deportation is based on a non-refoulement claim, which argues that he may face persecution upon returning to Vietnam due to the background of his father — a South Vietnam soldier who fought the communist North. He also fears being held liable for leaving the country illegally.
Vo continued to fight even after his claim was rejected twice; however, he recently explained his decision to submit to deportation in a letter to volunteers of the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre Concern Group, which assists his case.
According to HKFP, Hong Kong has had a history of pushing Vietnamese refugees out of the country since they began arriving in 1975. Of the 200,000 Vietnamese people who arrived on the island between 1975 and 1999, 143,700 were resettled elsewhere and 67,000 were repatriated.
“All kinds of pain behind these iron bars are too hard to describe. The difficulty is unforgettable for life. We have tried with everything we had, but this government has a heart made with stone,” Vo wrote in a Nov. 29 letter announcing his decision to accept his deportation. “Hong Kong doesn’t have democracy anymore, the same as in Vietnam.”
Moving forward: In a new interview, Vo told HKFP that he hopes to live in Do Son, a district in the northeastern city of Haiphong, after his release. His jail mate reportedly owns a residence in the district.
Vo, who learned English and Cantonese in his years behind bars, plans to work as a translator for foreign businesses. “I can’t speak English very well, as it was self-taught, but I can read fine,” he told HKFP. “I can also type. I learned how to use a computer when in prison.”
Vo said he has instructed the lawyer assisting with his case to withdraw his deportation challenge. He now awaits further instruction from the Hong Kong government.
Hong Kong’s Immigration Department has declined to comment on the case, according to HKFP; however, the department said it is committed to “removing unsubstantiated non-refoulement claimants from Hong Kong as soon as practicable in accordance with prevailing laws and policy.”
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