About 80 people staged a sit-in protest under heavy police surveillance in front of the downtown government headquarters, demanding free housing and subsidies to help them move out.
"The government wants to kick us out but doesn't give us a place to live," said Fan Chun-Keung, 34, a part-time construction worker. "We're not criminals. We're just an unfortunate bunch that got stuck here."
Officials pulled the gate shut at midnight Wednesday and announced the remote camp at Pillar Point closed permanently, marking the official end of the territory's 25-year history of providing temporary asylum for Vietnamese fleeing political persecution or poverty after the Vietnam War.
The government decided in February 2000 to shut the camp and give the Vietnamese refugees Hong Kong residency, calling it a humanitarian solution for the residents and their Hong Kong-born children who had been stuck in the territory awaiting relocation to the West - some for up to two decades.
Some 1,274 have applied for residency, while 143 have not.
Human rights activists agree it's the best way to handle the drawn-out problem that had drained Hong Kong's resources. But not everyone is happy.
The refugees are left to find their own means to survive in the affluent society.
Many of them are unemployed or work odd jobs and complain employers are relactant to hire foreign workers. Others say they cannot find landlords who trust them enough to rent them a place.
Some 137 people, including some of the protesters, refused to leave the camp after the closure, Secretary for Security Regina Ip said.
They were allowed to stay but were required to register with security officials before entering or leaving the locked camp, Ip told reporters. She refused to say if the government has plans to kick them out.
"We always try to use minimun force," she said. "We'll take appropriate measures to encourage them to leave."
A handful of them, dissatisfied that they were kept behind the gate, scuffled with police and security officials, Asia Television reported. There were no arrests or injuries.
Lam Li-lna, 35, said her monthly salary of HK$5,000 (US$640) is hardly enough to support her unemployed husband and 2-year-old daughter, even with free housing.
Rent for even the tiniest apartments in urban areas is usually more than HK$6,000 (US$760).
"No one would rent us a place because I couldn't prove to the landlords that I could pay rent for more than two months," said Lam, who fled Vietnam on a ramshackle fishing boat in 1989.
About 1 million Vietnamese fled to neighboring countries on foot or by boat to escape political persecution and poverty after the communist North defeated the U.S. backed South in 1975.
Hong Kong, then a British colony, gave unconditional temporary asylum to people awaiting resettlement in the West until 1988, when it added a screening process to separate political and economic refugees. The latter were eventually sent home.
A handful of refugees had been stuck in Hong Kong because they
were refused asylum elsewhere due to criminal records or drug problems.
Others had nowhere to go because the government could not prove their identity.