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Vietnamese Refugees

Volume 960: debated on Friday 15 December 1978

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12.25 p.m.

I am grateful for the chance to discuss a different sort of boat problem in a different part of the world. A year ago I had the opportunity of raising the question of the Indo-Chinese refugees during the Christmas Adjournment debate. Sadly, in the 12 months separating those two debates the situation has deteriorated dramatically.

Obviously we cannot tell how many refugees tried to escape from Vietnam last year or how many have tried this year. Last year one distinguished expert on the problem, Mr. Ian Ward of The Daily Telegraph, estimated that one in six of those trying to escape actually reached safety. The rest were turned back by coastal guards, died of exposure, or drowned when their small cockle shell boats sank in the China Sea.

In 1977 it was comparatively rare for the number of refugees who reached safety by boat to exceed 1,500 a month. In 1978 the number of boat people who reached some form of safety reached 6,000 a month, and recently the figure was running at more than 12,000 a month. No one can tell how many more are still waiting to come.

When Vietnam was divided in 1954, 800,000 Vietnamese, many of them Christians, moved from the Communist North to the South. Then it was easy to flee. Now it is comparatively difficult. In the past three and a half years almost 300.000 have fled from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and there are no signs of the flow stopping.

Vast numbers of people put up with extreme danger and extraordinary discomfort. Some flee because of social and economic pressures. They may have been connected with the old regime and face re-education. They may have faced transfer from the overcrowded towns to the rigours of the new economic zones in Vietnam where life is arduous, primitive and bleak. Some were from the Buddhist and Christian communities and they took to the boats because of religious persecution. The high proportion of Chinese in the latest exodus is a clear indication of the mounting ethnic discrimination against the Chinese in Vietnam since relations between Hanoi and Peking became so acrimonious.

How many would like to follow the 300,000 who have fled? Is it 1 million or perhaps 2 million? It is plain that the Vietnamese authorities are tacitly encouraging those whom they call the "dissident consumer-oriented elements" to get out. However embarrassing that is for us, it is a rather better attitude than that of the East Germans, who deploy barbed wire, land mines, savage dogs and armed sentries to prevent their people from fleeing.

Last month, along with millions of others, I sat comfortably in front of a television set while 2,500 refugees were tossed about off the shores of Malaysia on the 1,500-ton steamer the "Hai Hong ". The refugees were accused of having paid for their passage. One unsympathetic official said that they should be treated as unwelcome tourists, not refugees. If that were true, we saw on our television sets one of the most crowded cruises in the history of travel.

To experience equally unpleasant conditions every man, woman and child in my constituency would have to put to sea for a fortnight in an undermanned, under-provisioned and under-crewed "Ark Royal ".

One can understand the concern of the countries that are in the front line when it comes to receiving refugees. In the first 11 months of the year Malaysia, which is not a rich country and which has a delicately internal racial balance, played host to 52,336 boat people from Vietnam, of whom 39,0000 are not classified as refugees. They have acquired a type of floating squatter status.

The other front-line State, Thailand, is also poor and has its fair share of ethnic problems. It received 58,509 refugees in the first 11 months of the year. Most of them are Laotians who have swarmed across the Mekong river for much the same reasons as the thousands of Vietnamese who have taken to the sea.

The official refugee population in Thailand has now reached 130,000. In recent months the Thais have made desperate efforts to appear as inhospitable as possible. There are two reasons why this flood of refugees has curdled the natural kindliness and humanity of the Malaysian and Thai administrators. The first reason is that they fear that a friendly reception will encourage more people to go there. Nobody can tell for certain how many potential refugees there are. In the past it was thought that a chilly reception might deter some potential refugees from setting off at all. Plainly, this inhibition has been overcome by the knowledge that the complacency of the Vietnamese authorities might not last for ever.

Secondly, there is a natural fear that any Government who sympathetically bent over to pick up the baby might be left holding it for a long time. Each country in the area knows, or believes, that if it throws open its frontiers and ports the rich nations of the West will heave a sigh of relief and turn away from the problem.

What is needed? We need money, organisation and imagination. The organisation for dealing with the refugee problem in the Far East is provided mainly by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who now has a staff of 50 in Malaysia alone.

In the past I have been critical of the work of some United Nations agencies. I expect that I shall be critical of them in the future. But I am not critical of the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I have seen some of the camps in Thailand. The programme seems to be well run and well organised by men with a sense of mission.

Money should be forthcoming. I understand that the High Commissioner wants £30 million this year to maintain the refugees. He should get it. At long last Japan is making a major contribution.

Two years ago Britain contributed nothing to this refugee programme. I condemned the Government in the House. Perhaps the Minister will remember some of the acrimonious arguments that we had. It seemed to be wrong that we should turn our backs. But today our financial contribution is one of the best. I am glad to see that we appear to have increased that contribution by £1 million in the past six weeks. A contribution of £500,000 was announced in November. I understand that another £500,000 contribution was announced at the Geneva conference last week. Our contribution has more than doubled in the past year.

Last week the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees called a special conference at Geneva to discuss this problem. It was at that conference that our Government announced that they were to increase their contribution. I understand that the Americans also announced that they would absorb 50,000 Vietnamese refugees a year—an increase from the 25,000 that they have taken in the past. The French, who have been taking 1,000 refugees a month, have slightly increased their quota.

The conference considered a proposal to set up special centres on isolated islands in the Pacific where the refugees and displaced persons would be processed for resettlement in an orderly way within a specific time and against guarantees that there would be no residual problem. It was said rather guardedly at the conference that the proposal should be further elaborated and studied by Governments.

For two years I have urged that reception centres of this kind should be set up in the South-East Asian area so that we shall not experience agonised heart searching about the fate of each boat. The Daily Telegraph today reports that another four small boats, carrying 360 refugees, have been towed out to sea.

I am glad to see that Malaysia, understandably, supports this proposal. But the Americans remain unconvinced. Until they are converted, it is difficult to see that much will happen. I hope that these studies will be pressed actively and that the Americans will change their minds.

There has also been limited progress in persuading other countries to take more refugees. Much of the moral pressure has fallen on Western European countries. I am not sure that that is wise.

Many of the Indo-Chinese refugees are immensely adaptable. But many are not. I do not believe that there is much point in moving large numbers of Vietnamese fishermen or Laotian farming families into the cold and perlexing environment of Beckenham, Birmingham, Beaconsfield or Brussels. I am surprised that no con- certed effort appears to have been made to find a haven for a large number of refugees in climatically more compatible areas. I am thinking of Southern and Central America where there are still empty lands and where the climate is similar to that in Indo-China. I note that the French are introducing a pilot scheme to resettle 500 Laotian farmers in French Guyana where the climate and conditions are similar to those in Laos. I hope that this experiment will go well and that it will be expanded sharply.

Meanwhile, 366—or 367 because a child has just been born—who were picked up in the South China sea by the steamer "Wellpark" are now established in an old Army barracks off Kensington Church Street, half a mile from my home. Today the first group of five families are moving to permanent homes in Peterborough. Tomorrow 11 refugees are due to arrive in the barracks.

The centre seems to be run admirably under the general direction of the British Council for Aid to Refugees. The British taxpayer is footing most of the Bill through the Department of Health and Social Security and the Home Office. Hundreds of local residents have been helpful. The Inner London Education Authority—another organisation which I do not praise often—has been particularly helpful in providing admirable teaching for the whole range of age groups.

The refugees themselves seem to be adapting quickly to British ways. I understand that the only major fight that has occurred in the hostel followed an argument about changing channels on a television set. But the barracks in Kensington are meant to be only a temporary home. In theory, it will become a youth hostel again at the end of March, for the authorities seem to believe that the majority of the 232 refugees who have applied for resettlement in Australia, Canada or, most often, the United States will soon be on their way to those countries. I believe that that is an overoptimistic forecast.

Given the number of refugee boats still drifting about in the China seas, I cannot believe that the Americans or the Canadians will give any priority to the Vietnamese who have found a haven in this country. We have rightly said that we will accept here any refugees picked up by a British ship. There is perhaps an overall commitment to help the 4,000 refugees now finding shelter in Hong Kong.

Given the nature of the problem, it is difficult to be precise. But it looks as though the Government, in practice, are committed to taking between 500 and 1,000 refugees into this country each year so long as the flood of people from Vietnam continues. If that is right, the sooner that voluntary agencies such as the British Council for Aid to Refugees, the Save the Children Fund or the Ockendon Venture get some Government guidance, the better. Their help is essential, but they have very little idea of what plans to make for the future.

The party heading for Peterborough today is going largely, I understand, on the initiative of one man, Councillor Swift. I understand that the party which will be heading for Swindon in the new year will be going there because of the initiative of an old friend of mine, the Rev. Andrew Hake. This sort of personal commitment is wholly admirable when one is dealing with a few clusters of families. More formal arrangements will be needed if the Government are thinking in terms of taking in 500 to 1,000 refugees a year.

I believe that the Western world has a substantial moral obligation to the thousands of refugees who will be spending Christmas in austere camps or in cramped, dangerous boats. We should not turn wearily away at this time of the year while little children are left to drown.

12.45 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) has done a service to the House in raising the difficult problem of the refugees from Indo-China. I do not imagine that there is any easy or entirely satisfactory solution.

I wish only to refer to some aspects which have a particular British significance. My hon. Friend will understand that I strongly resist any suggestion that a substantial number of refugees from another source should come to this country. I recognise very well the human- itarian considerations which arise, but we have to start from where we are.

The House is familiar with the inflows from overseas into this country over the past 20 to 25 years resulting in an immigrant population, or an immigrant-descended population, of a magnitude that is debatable but that is between 3 million and 4 million people. That is a formidable ingestion in a period of less than one generation. It has transformed some parts of our country, and it has all happened in a most haphazard and unplanned way.

It would never have happened if it had been planned. The people of this country would never have consented to the creation, in less than one generation, of an immigrant population numbering between 3 million and 4 million. I am talking simply of an immigrant population from the tropical areas of the world. That figure does not include the inflow of people from the temperate areas of the world, which is also massive.

In the central areas of London—Westminster, Kensington, Chelsea, Earl's Court, Haringey and places like that —more than half the babies are born to mothers who were not themselves born in any part of the United Kingdom. This shows the context in which we have to consider the points that my hon. Friend has so ably put before the House.

We are in danger not merely of so diversifying our population as to destroy its sense of identity but also of turning ourselves into a human ant-heap. If one takes a typical area, say, Earl's Court, one find that the density of population is about 60,000 to the square mile. That means that 100 people per acre live there. It is, I suppose, about seven times the density of Hong Kong. An almost fantastic position has developed in London since the war. We must have this in mind.

I yield to no one in my sympathy for those who either have escaped from or are living in these Indo-Chinese territories—not just Vietnam—where appalling things have been happening. But we should also consider the humanitarian aspects of our own life. We have to be humanitarian to the British people, for whose life and future we in this House have a direct and special—indeed overriding—responsibility.

A problem of course exists in Indo-China. It is the result of savage Communist-inspired and supported insurrections. The refugees whom we are considering are overwhelmingly Chinese. Why should they not go to China? This never seems to be suggested. But they are Chinese: they have migrated to many parts of Indo-China—Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. All those place have substantial Chinese populations, which are migrant in the sense that they are ethnically derived from somewhere else, and migrant also in another sense, in that they are fairly footloose.

They are not by any means as footloose as the Indians in East Africa, who moved up and down the coast as conditions changed. But India never denied its responsibility for accepting the East African Indian traders. That point was never sufficiently realised in this country, but I never criticised India. India never refused to accept any of the people from Uganda or Kenya—provided that they had not first elected to come here. If they had, India said that it had been disowned. That was how the "shuttlecock" cases arose. Otherwise, India would take any of the so-called United Kingdom passport holders—a nonsensical term—and any of the East African traders could always go to India. If they came here, it was because they preferred England to Bombay.

The same should be true—I do not know whether it is, and I hope that the Minister will say—of China. China is the ethnic home of these people. Almost by definition it has those climatic characteristics that my hon. Friend said are obviously desirable for these people. What is more, China, either on its own or in concert with Russia, has the ultimate responsibility for the terrible plight in which these people now find themselves. It is no good a country such as China or Russia washing its hands of what it has done. That is where the responsibility lies.

I hope that we shall not be chivalrously unrealistic and say that wherever in the world persecution or population pressure or migration pressure arises, this country is the appointed terminus of the migration flow. That is what has happened. I am sure that the Minister will remember, after the war, the tremendous population pressure that had been bottled up during the war—caused mainly, I suppose, by the use of DDT, if we are to be frank. As soon as the shipping shortage was over, they started flooding out of the West Indies and such places to all sorts of destinations.

The doors were quickly shut, and we had them—not because of empire but, characteristically, because we were the very last to shut the door. Ours was the last door that remained open. That is why they came here. The United States' contribution to population pressures in the West Indies was an agreement to take, I think, 13 a year.

I do not want that to happen again, with all others shutting their doors because of the magnitude of the efflux. My hon. Friend has shown the magnitudes that we are talking about—currently running at about 12,000 a month. I do not want that to happen again. We have no specific responsibility towards South-East Asia, either of history or of geography, and I hope that the interests of the British people will be carefully borne in mind when other interests are weighed in the balance.

12.55 p.m.

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) on launching a debate on this important subject. He has kept up a sustained interest in the subject and, as he said, about a year ago he had an Adjournment debate on the matter. I recently paid a visit to both Hong Kong and Thailand, which certainly brought home to me the scale of the refugee problem in the Indo-China area.

As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) implied, we need reminding of the background to this refugee problem, of the great crime—one can describe it as no less—committed in the various Communist Indo-China countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos against human beings, the gross abuse of the individual rights of human beings by regimes, one of which, the Vietnamese, is supported and encouraged by the Soviet Union. Inevitably, that poses a threat to peace and stability in the area.

I will not develop that point at the moment We know from all the evidence the gross internal repression of the last two or three years in these countries. My hon. Friend talked of the size of the refugee problem and gave various figures. I have read perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that about 700,000 people have been uprooted and left the three Indo-Chinese countries since 1975. There are different ethnic groups, such as the Meo hill tribesmen of Laos, the ethnic Chinese from Vietnam, and the boat people from Vietnam, many of whom are by background middle-class professional people who have made a contribution to their country. We have heard terrible stories of their plight at sea as they struggle to seek freedom from the repression of their own country.

We are witnessing the consequences of repressive Communist regimes. The evidence is there for the whole world to see that life in a Communist country is not, as they promise, heaven on earth but hell on earth. The evidence is there and there are many lessons for us.

I hope that the Minister will make a report upon the recent meeting of 40 countries—I believe that he attended on behalf of the British Government—at Geneva for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. I hope that he will clarify the British Government's position.

Of course, I accept that there is a requirement for Britain in its total approach to see this problem in a humane and practical way—in concert with other nations. The United Kingdom has made substantial financial contributions to the work of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, but we must acknowledge the remarkable contribution of voluntary bodies, such as the Save the Children Fund, which I saw in Thailand —bodies which are raising money from the British people, who feel that those organisations can make a contribution.

We are in a special position because of the density of our population and the recent immigration problems from which we have suffered. In my discussions in the Far East I found a clear acceptance that we face particular difficulties. Although we have had a reputation over many centuries for receiving refugees, we face intense problems. I do not think that there is any great pressure on us to accept a substantial number of refugees. We have made a token gesture.

I believe that Britain can help in other ways, and I hope that I am right in saying that that is generally accepted by the international community. We recognise that Thailand and Malaysia have particular problems and cannot be expected to absorb all the refugees.

I ask the Minister to clarify Government thinking, having regard to certain considerations. It is to be hoped that there will not be a repeat of the Palestine refugee problem, with all the consequent problems to which it has given rise since the war. My hon. Friend said that there should be proper transit facilities, staging post facilities, and that every assistance should be given to their provision. I hope that the Minister will comment and answer my hon. Friend's question whether it is possible to find in some part of the world an area of land or an island where the refugees can be helped.

There is also the question of dispersal. Some countries in particular Australia, the United States and France—have made an effort to take in some of the refugees. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield highlighted the fact that many of them are ethnically Chinese, and said that consideration should be given to China's taking on a substantial responsibility. I hope that the Minister will say what discussions there were in Geneva about that.

I come to the need for an allied effort. Britain should take a leading role, not only with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees but elsewhere. After all, we are a member of the Commonwealth, and Malaysia and Hong Kong face problems. There should be a Commonwealth approach to their problems. With the Association of South East Asian Nations partners now growing in strength, we have important ties with them. The European Community has just had a discussion with the ASEAN Foreign Ministers, and I hope that the matter can be seen in that context as well.

Our long-term objective must be to persuade the Indo-China regimes, through international effort, to create conditions in which there is once again respect for individual rights, for the freedom of the individual, with a view to enabling the refugees to return to their own countries. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees should play a leading part in assisting in that process. In the meantime, we should expose the nature of the existing regimes and vigorously proclaim the right of their peoples to live in freedom from tyranny. Britain should play a leading role in that.

1.4 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) on raising a vital topic, perhaps one of the most serious and difficult of all the refugee problems in the world today. It is a situation of great tragedy, of which British public opinion is beginning to be aware. The debate is also timely, because earlier this week there was a United Nations conference on the problem, which I attended. In replying to the debate, I shall try to make use of the experience I gained there.

One can trace the long-term origin of the problem to the terrible war that raged in Vietnam and throughout Indo-China for 30 years, and the fact that the war reflected a division of society within Vietnam—indeed, a division between two separate societies, two different ways of life, two different political philosophies and, perhaps above all, two different kinds of economy.

The conquest of one side by the other meant that one of those political philosophies, one way of life and one type of economy were imposed on the whole country. It is perhaps not altogether surprising that some of those who were used to an entirely different way of life, an entirely different belief in how life should be lived and an entirely different economy no longer found their existence worth while in the new society.

In addition, there has been great poverty, much greater in the south of Vietnam than previously existed. There has been the movement of population out of the big cities, out of Saigon—Ho Chi-Minh City, as it now is—into the countryside. Many other factors, including the general human rights position, made many people wish to leave. That movement has been going on for about three years. The figure given by the hon. Gentleman of about 700,000 refugees over that period is probably about right. It is a reflection of the dissatisfaction of many people with life in Vietnam as it is today.

We come across a difficult problem here. I do not think that any of us would wish the Government of Vietnam to apply the kind of policies that have been applied by the Soviet Union, East Germany and other countries of forcibly preventing people who wished to leave from doing so. But we cannot fail to recognise that the present position is creating not merely a tremendous burden on other countries but huge hardship and in many cases loss of life, which it must be our aim to prevent.

Some of the refugees—unfortunately, only a small proportion—leave in an orderly manner. Some go by air from Ho Chi-Minh City to Hong Kong. They are mainly the dependants of people who have already left. As we all know from television and newspapers, many others leave in appallingly dangerous circumstances, in small boats that are often un-seaworthy. They have hazardous journeys, and may finally arrive in countries that do not want to receive them.

What can we do? That was the problem confronted by the conference that I attended earlier this week, and it is confronted by the entire international community. I should like to deal first with the most immediate problem and then go on to the more general, long-term problem.

What can we do to prevent the loss of life of people at sea, which is perhaps the most tragic feature of the whole situation? It is particularly appalling when we read of Western ships passing small boats carrying refugees, or small islands where refugees are situated, and doing nothing to assist them because of the problems that may occur for the masters of the ships, or the countries to which they belong, over resettlement.

Three things can be done. First, the Governments of Western countries can urge the masters of their ships to pick up refugees wherever they find them on the seas. We have already done this. We first did it a year ago and we officially reiterated our request recently. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the secretary-general of the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organisation have issued a joint appeal of the same kind to the masters of all ships.

Secondly, it is important that the Governments of the countries from which the ships come should be ready in the final resort to accept refugees picked up in that way. We have said that if such refugees are not resettled within three months we shall allow them to stay here. Quite a large proportion of those whom we are now receiving come to us in that way.

I shall come to that a little later. I agree that it would be the ideal solution.

Thirdly, the Governments of the countries to which such ships next go, the port States, should allow the refugees to land at the next port of call and not demand a guarantee that they have acceptance elsewhere in order to do so. We have been doing that, and the Government of Hong Kong have done it for a considerable period. The Government of Japan have at last agreed to do it. Not all Governments do, and that is the cause of some of our difficulties. It is important that such an undertaking should be given. Otherwise, captains will be unwilling to pick up refugees, as they clearly should.

I come now to the second and more general problem, which is the next stage when these people are able to land and settle in particular countries. Those countries are principally Thailand and Malaysia, which are at present undertaking a quite inequitable burden on behalf of the entire international community. It is unfair that they have to do that when the problem is not one of their making. They are becoming—I can report this from the conference—increasingly resentful about having to take on the burden, and increasingly insistent that other countries, particularly but not only Western countries, should undertake to accept some of the refugees.

It is totally disproportionate for Thailand to have 140,000 refugees and Malaysia 40,000. Fortunately, these countries do not have to shoulder much of the financial burden. Most of the financial cost is undertaken by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But there is a considerable political problem for them, particularly for Malaysia, in that, whether these refugees are of Chinese of Vietnamese stock, they add to the racial tensions. It is therefore important that other countries should agree to take refugees. That was the major single topic that was discussed at the Geneva conference earlier this week. The United Nations High Commissioner was most anxious to secure additional offers of this kind, and a substantial number of offers was made.

Representatives at the conference, mainly from the United States, Australia, France and other Western countries, mentioned offers of about 80,000 places in their territories. Some of these have been made before, and I believe that there were only about 5,000 totally new offers. However, in itself that was quite satisfactory.

I regret that we were not able to make a specific offer, but I was able to report to the conference that we are at present urgently and sympathetically considering what we can do to help. However, we already have a substantial problem. About 70,000 immigrants come to this country each year, of whom over 20,000 are from Asia. There are a few from other parts of the New Commonwealth. I do not want to go into the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell). He grossly exaggerated the present extent of immigration into this country ; he almost doubled the total number of immigrants in this country. I do not want to get involved in that discussion because it is totally irrelevant to our debate.

We have these responsibilities, however, and I believe that there was considerable understanding at the conference of our special difficulties and problems. There is, of course, the hope that we will be able to do more. I hope that we shall, as does the United States. However, we have already made something of a commitment by saying that we shall take on all of those who are picked up by British ships, if it is necessary to take them on. That could add up certainly to several hundred or possibly, as the hon. Member for Beckenham said, a thousand in a year.

The conference was also concerned about offers of financial assistance. Fairly substantial offers were made. I think that $12 million of new money was offered at the conference. We offered an additional $1 million. It is not the case that we have been suddenly converted to the idea of giving financial help to the High Commissioner. We have been doing it consistently since at least 1976. In that year we gave £350,000 to the High Commissioner's general programme plus £2 million in relief and humanitarian assistance for the various United Nations and other programmes for Indo-China.

Last year we gave £1 million to the general programme. This year so far we have pledged, including the £500,000 that I offered this week, £2 million for the United Nations High Commissioner for him to use for Indo-Chinese refugees plus £3·5 million for the general programme. It cannot therefore be said that we have not made fairly substantial and generous offers of financial assistance to the United Nations High Commissioner. That is perhaps one of the most important things that we can do, although I hope that we shall be able to offer more places, too.

I turn finally to the more general problem. I agree with the hon. Members for Beckenham and Shoreham (Mr. Luce) about this. First, we must recognise the magnitude of the problem. The flow has increased dramatically over the last two Dr three months. I heard today from what I think is a well-informed source that it may have eased off quite a lot in the last week or two. I hope that it has. The belief was that perhaps the Vietnamese Government had taken account of the urgent appeals made to them about the problem. However, the problem is a major one and we have to think of alternative countries that would be willing to receive the refugees.

I agree that Latin American countries appear to be a likely source of offers. We know that these countries are looking for more immigrants. I know that Indo-Chinese immigrants are generally regarded as being satisfactory in that they are hardworking and quickly find themselves jobs and housing.

Several hon. Members have suggested that China might be asked to take a larger number of refugees. China has, however, already taken a substantial number. It has taken 170,000 refugees from the north of Vietnam in the fairly recent past. The important point about this suggestion is that in refugee programmes it is important that account is taken of what the refugees want and where they want to go. A large proportion of these people have left Vietnam because they do not like life in that kind of society. They therefore do not necessarily want to live in China where the society, although displaying great political differences from Vietnam, is in some way similar. If most of the refugees now in Thailand and Malaysia were asked whether they would like to go to China, I do not think that many of them would say "Yes ". I wish that they would, because it is an obvious potential answer to the problem.

As I said at the conference, the real long-term solution is that one should hope that the ultimate cause of their being refugees should be removed. In other words, we should hope that conditions in Vietnam which created the problem will he changed. Above all, one should certainly hope to see an end to the situation which has been reported recently in which Government or local officials in Vietnam have been taking payment to allow the exodus.

I and the Australian delegate at the conference asked that Vietnam should seek to secure a more orderly flow or to do something to ensure that people are not in grave danger of losing their lives by leaving the country. I should like to think that there will be such changes in Vietnamese society that many refugees would like to go back.

There was talk at the conference this week about voluntary repatriation to Vietnam. I am not sure whether that is always practicable. In some cases the refugees would not want to go back to that type of society or regime. In other cases they would like to have the chance of resettlement in a country of a much higher standard of living.

There may be other reasons. For example, there may be Chinese who do not want to go back to Vietnam just because they are Chinese. I entirely agree that one must hope that the ultimate long-term solution to the problem is that the reasons that have caused this terrible flow of refugees out of Vietnam and this terrible problem will cease to exist.