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Indo-Chinese Refugees

Volume 173: debated on Thursday 24 May 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will a statement on the outcome of the informal working level meeting in Manila in 17–18 May of the steering committee set up under the comprehensive plan of action adopted by the 1989 Geneva conference on Indo-Chinese refugees.

Representatives of 26 countries, the EC Commission and the International Organisation for Migration met in Manila on 17–18 May to review all components of the comprehensive plan of action (CPA).On 16 May, representatives of the Governments of the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei and the United Kingdom/Hong Kong issued the following statement:

"For over 15 years, countries in South-East Asia and Hong Kong have provided temporary refuge to Vietnamese boat people at tremendous cost to themselves. This burden has become intolerable and cannot continue. The CPA adopted by the ICIR in June 1989 is aimed at securing a durable solution to the VBP problem within a definite time frame of three years through the implementation of all its interdependent provisions.
The viability of the CPA, however, has been undermined by selective implementation of its provisions. While countries of temporary refuge have been urged to continue to provide first asylum, crucial elements of the CPA have either not been given due focus or totally ignored. In particular, clandestine departures from Vietnam have continued and two CPA participants have blocked repatriation of non-refugees who do not volunteer to return.
In the light of the above, countries of temporary refuge wish to stress the following:
  • 1. Responsibility for solving the problem of VBP rests primarily with Vietnam as the country of origin;
  • 2. Vietnam should take more effective measures to deter clandestine departure and promote the Orderly Departure Programme (ODP) as the sole mode of departure for emigration. On humanitarian grounds, all CPA participants have a duty to co-operate to bring to an end clandestine departures involving risky journeys across the sea or otherwise;
  • 3. The near consensus reached at the Steering Committee Meeting in January 1990 in Geneva, particularly the date for ending the moratorium on repatriating non-refugees who do not volunteer, should be implemented as from 1 July 1990;
  • 4. The repatriation of non-refugees who do not volunteer to return is essential to the CPA's viability and survival. Without it, the status determination procedure has no meaning or purpose;
  • 5. There is an obligation on any country which opposes the repatriation of non-refugees who do not volunteer to offer an effective intermediate solution, such as the setting up and financing on its own territory of a regional holding centre for all non-refugees, as envisaged in the CPA;
  • 6. In the event of failure to agree even an intermediate solution to the VBP problem, countries of temporary refuge must reserve the right to take such unilateral action as they deem necessary to safeguard their national interests, including the abandonment of temporary refuge.
  • Countries of temporary refuge express their concern at the recent upsurge of Cambodian boat people in South-East Asia, noting that this category of boat people is not covered by CPA".

    The overwhelming majority of participants at the Manila meeting reaffirmed that non-refugees should return to their country of origin in accordance with international practice reflecting the responsibilities of states towards their own citizens. If, however, agreement on the near consensus of the last steering committee on the duration of a moratorium on non-voluntary repatriation was again prevented, an intermediate solution, such as the establishment of a holding centre for non-refugees, should be found. They also agreed on the importance to tackle the root causes of clandestine departure from Vietnam through humanitarian programmes in that country. In that connection the British delegation announced a special scheme to support NGO activities in those parts of North Vietnam from which boat people come, for which purpose a sum of £1 million has been set aside. In addition, Vietnam has been added to the list of countries participating in the general joint funding scheme under which the ODA meets 50 per cent. of the costs of agreed NGO projects.

    Finally, the meeting recommended that the full steering committee should meet again in the very near future, possibly in late June in Geneva. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees was requested to bring the gravity of the situation to the attention of the Governments concerned and it was also noted that various demarches would be made to the same end by other participating states.