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By Jan TenBruggencate

KAHULUI, Hawai‘i (September 2, 1999 - Honolulu Advertiser)---Wildlife and tourism activities have returned to normal on Midway Atoll following the arrival last week of a boatload of Chinese migrants, rescued by the Coast Guard after their cargo ship broke down.

U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman Don Mueller said agents are on Midway, continuing to interview the more than 75 migrants, all of whom are believed to be from China.

The group is housed in a gymnasium built when the Navy operated Midway as a mid-ocean military base. They have cots, pillows and blankets, access to restroom and showers in the gym, and can go outside to a tennis court next to the gym, he said.

Their meals are prepared in the old Navy galley, which is built to handle many times the present population of the island, said Mike Gautreaux, island manager for Midway Phoenix Corp.

The island’s sewage plant and other facilities are easily capable of handling the added demands of some 75 migrants and 50 federal naturalization and public health people, he said.

The company has a contract from the Fish and Wildlife Service to operate the Midway airfield and to run an environmental and historic tourism program, featuring bird-watching, fishing, diving in the lagoon, and visits to military sites made famous during the Battle of Midway.

"It’s back to business as usual as far as we’re concerned," Gautreaux said. Most of the visitors now on the island are divers, and while visitors are aware of the migrants, few see them. Immigration officials prevent interaction between the migrants and others on the island.

Mueller said the boat people are receiving full physical examinations from U.S. Public Health Service employees while they are being interviewed to determine whether they left China for purely economic reasons or whether there may be political or other issues that could threaten their safety if they are returned.

"In the past, generally, the vast majority are economic migrants" who would be returned to their homelands, he said.

The Yu Xing, the aged 140-foot coastal cargo ship on which they were traveling, is under tow by the Coast Guard buoy tender Kukui to Honolulu.

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