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January 1996, Volume 3, Number 1

Vietnamese Refugee Resettlement

The US in December made another effort to return the 37,000 Vietnamese still languishing in camps in Asia to Vietnam, despite plans by one US Congressman to deny US funds to the UN help resettle the boat people in Vietnam. The last Vietnamese were expected to be home be the end of 1995, but only 5,000 were returned in 1995, versus 12,500 in 1994.

Under the US plan, Vietnamese in the camps would be taken to Ho Chi Minh City by the UN, and interviewed as they returned to Vietnam by US immigration officials. If the "several thousand" among the returning Vietnamese can prove that they worked with the US during the war, and can qualify as political refugees, they could come to the US. Most of the other Vietnamese would be expected to resettle in Vietnam.

The UN planned to empty Vietnamese from the camps in 1995, but Vietnamese in the camps refused to return after US House approved $30 million to bring Vietnamese in the camps to the US. The legislation was not approved by Congress, but many of the 20,000 Vietnamese in Hong Kong believe that China's 1997 takeover will force the US to accept them. Many Hong Kong residents believe the Vietnamese should return; the UNHCR owes Hong Kong $130 million for costs it incurred to house the Vietnamese.

Many of the refugees do not want to be returned to Vietnam and some Republican legislators are reluctant to send them forcibly back to Vietnam. A Republican amendment attached to the federal budget bill would prohibit the forced repatriation of economic migrants, and would block US payments to UNHCR if UNHCR continues forced repatriations.

Thailand, Vietnam and UNHCR signed a memorandum of understanding to repatriate the last 5,000 Vietnamese refugees in Thailand by the middle of 1996.

Vietnam has asked for more time to repatriate the remaining 2,600 Vietnamese refugees in the Philippines. The delay is partly due to the budget impasse in the US Congress, because the US agreed to help pay for the refugees return. The UNHCR has said it will not fund the refugee camp in the Philippines past December 31, 1995, so the Philippine government has said it will pay for the cost of housing and feeding the Vietnamese refugees. UNHCR wanted to move the refugees to a UN center in Vietnam until the repatriation agreement had been signed.

On December 12, the Australian government deported 68 Sino-Vietnamese asylum seekers. The 68 asylum-seekers were from a group of about 900 who arrived in Australia from the Beihai region of China late last year. Under an agreement between Australia and China, Sino-Vietnamese refugees who had been resettled in China are not permitted to apply for refugee status in another country.

"Manila to continue to host Viet refugees," UPI, December 26, 1995. "The Last Vietnamese Boat People," New York Times, December 25, 1995. "Thailand's last 5,000 Vietnamese refugees to go home," Japan Economic Newswire, December 26, 1995. "Another group of Sino-Viet boatpeople deported from Australia," Agence France Presse, December 12, 1995. Rajiv Chandra, "A Slow Boat Home for Boat People," Inter Press Service, December 12, 1995. Sheila Tefft, "Asia's Mired Huddled Masses," Christian Science Monitor, December 7, 1995. Tim Weiner, "New effort by US and Vietnam to return boat people home," New York Times, December 4, 1995.