January 19, 1989 | Executive Memorandum on Asia
refugees they would accept for resettlement in their countries. With the steady decrease in the number of refugees allowed into the U.S., the first asylum countries of Southeast Asia under- standably have been reluctant to let more Indochinese refugees in to their own countries. Since January 1988, some of these countries, Thailand in particular, actually have pushed refugee boats back to sea.
One result of these forced "push-backs" has been strained ties between the U.S. and such first asylum destinations as Hong Kong and Thailand. U.S.-Thai relations, in particular, have become strained. Thailand, with 380,000 Indochinese refugees on its soil , believes that decreased U.S. quotas will result in hundreds of thousands of refugees languishing in Thai camps with little hope of overseas resettlement. At the same time, the U.S. government consis- tently has pressed Bangkok not to repatriate Indochine se refugees forcibly.
State's Questionable Motive. Ile State Department's decision to lower the Southeast Asian ceiling calls into question the U.S. commitment to the stated American- goal -of-expandingmth-e- Orderly Departure Program. The State Department long has sought to obtain the release of 50,000 or more political prisoners and dependeigts who have been- persecuted for their pre- vious association with the U.S.-supported South Vietnamese government. In explaining the decision to decrease the number o f these people allowed into the U.S. through the ODP, the State Department claims that the allocations are not needed because talks on political prisoners have stalled. While U.S.-Vietnam negotiations over the release of political prisoners inside Vietnam have been slow, allocations for the same refugees that the State Department claims were set aside for political prisoners could be appIied'to accelerated processing of other groups such as Amerasians and close family members of Vietnamese already living i n the U.S. The State Department's decision seems to be motivated less by an inability to use the Southeast Asian allocations than by a need for slots for the significant. increase in Soviet. refugees.
The State Department's decision also is ill-timed in li ght of the upcoming U.N. International Conference on Refugees, tentatively scheduled for this April. Conference organizers, especial- ly first asylum nations, initially held hopes that the U.S. would pledge to -accept higher resettle- ment quotas to allev iate the growing backlog of Indochinese refugees. The latest Administra- tion moves, however, have dispelled much of their.early optirmism.
Reafflrming the U.S. Commitment. George Bush must understand that, while the U.S. should continue to welcome Soviet refugees, shifting refugee numbers from Southeast Asia will prolong the refugee problem by encouraging the flight of boat people-and.-sendingither.- wrong signals to U.S. friends and allies in Southeast Asia. It also will undercut U.S. efforts to resettle Vietnamese political prisoners, who have suffered greatly during the past fourteen years because of their service to the U.S. Worst of all, it betrays America's obligation to those brave Vietnamese who fought alongside Americans and who now want to live i n freedom.
The Bush Administration should restore immediately the 1988 ceiling for Indochinese refugees and should ask Congress to allow larger numbers of refugees to come to the U.S. --from both the Soviet Union and-Indochina.- The new -Administration;als o should announce its intention to send a high-level delegation to the April International Conference on Refugees. Such moves will reaffirm the U.S. commitment to resolving the problem of Indochinese refugees and fulfill the U.S. obligation to the Vietnam ese.
Kenneth J. Conb 10 Deputy Director, Xsian Studies Center}}