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HANOI EXPANDS CAMP, BUT REFUGEES DON’T COME

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Workmen are completing an expansion to the reception center for boat people who have given up their dream of life in the West. But the 100 extra beds aren't needed these days.

The number of Vietnamese returning from holding camps in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia is at a five-year low, crippling plans to empty most camps this year.Across the region, the last 40,000 Vietnamese boat people have been staging hunger strikes, protests and camp breakouts in an effort to keep from being sent home. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had planned to bring back 3,600 each month this year. Instead, the monthly average is about 600.

"The whole thing has come practically to a halt," said Carlos Zaccagnini of the UNHCR office in Hanoi.

Like other U.N. officials, he blames a bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that would allow up to 20,000 camp inmates to go to the United States. President Clinton has threatened a veto if the bill passes the Senate.

Still, "the asylum-seekers thought they still had a chance to go to the United States," Zaccagnini said.

Some have held the dream for decades. Vietnamese began fleeing in boats in 1975, when communist-ruled North Vietnam defeated the U.S.-supported South Vietnamese government. The exodus swelled in the late 1970s when a brief war with China made ethnic Chinese unwelcome. Later, more Vietnamese fled unemployment and poverty.

More than 1.6 million Vietnamese went on to new homes in the West or China.