The Plan of Action had "successfully met" its objectives, the Steering Committee declared. "Clandestine departures from the countries of origin [have] essentially come to a halt. First asylum [has] been restored and preserved. An equitable and efficient screening procedure ... permitted the resettlement in third countries of 74,287 recognized refugees... More than 500,000 persons departed Viet Nam legally."
The decision to end the Plan of Action meant that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will phase out care and maintenance activities in South-East Asians camps for rejected asylum seekers as of 1 July. In Hong Kong, which shelters a larger number of rejected asylum seekers, the UNHCR will maintain alternative arrangements. The Agency extensive programme to monitor people who have returned to Viet Nam and the Lao People's Democratic Republic, and its financial assistance and micro- development project to facilitate reintegration of returnees, will continue well beyond the closure of the Plan.
The Steering Committee, which met under the chairmanship of the UNHCR, noted in its final statement that "the only viable option" for Vietnamese non- refugees was to return to Viet Nam "either under voluntary repatriation or under orderly repatriation". It further noted that all non-refugees would "be treated humanely and consistent with the principles contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Such persons "can return to their country of origin in safety and dignity", the Steering Committee declared.
The Steering Committee also noted a statement by the Government of Viet Nam indicating that it would create favourable conditions permitting non- refugees who return to Viet Nam to then depart the country, provided that they are eligible for exit permits from Viet Nam. The United States Government indicated at the meeting that it would offer expanded opportunities for the departure of returnees from Viet Nam. The Steering Committee expressed "the hope that this would encourage the remaining population in camps to return home voluntarily as soon as possible".
- 2 - Press Release REF/1135 6 March 1996
When the Steering Committee first met, in 1989, hundreds of thousands of people were pouring out of Viet Nam and the Lao People's Democratic Republic by land and boat. Faced with the continuing exodus, and increasing reluctance by third countries to maintain resettlement opportunities for every Vietnamese of Laotian exile, countries of first asylum in South-East Asia threatened push-backs of the asylum seekers.
The International Conference on Indo-Chinese Refugees brought Viet Nam and the Lao People's Democratic Republic to the table for the first time, along with first-asylum and resettlement countries, to share responsibility for the asylum seekers and guarantee asylum to all refugees. The Plan, which the Conference adopted, set up alternative, legal departure programmes. It also guaranteed that every asylum seeker would receive refuge in first-asylum countries, pending determination of his or her refugee claim. Screening procedures were adopted to examine every individual's claim to refugee status. Recognized refugees were to receive resettlement opportunities. Rejected asylum seekers were to return to their home counties, whose governments agreed to refrain from any discrimination, harassment, persecution or unfair treatment.
Under the Plan, the UNHCR provided humanitarian assistance to the asylum seekers and advised countries of first asylum on the implementation of status determination procedures to identify genuine refugees. It also set up extensive monitoring mechanisms in the countries of origin, and gave significant financial assistance to the returnees and to the communities which absorbed them.
"The Plan, as a framework for international cooperation to provide humanitarian solutions to Indo-Chinese asylum seekers, has accomplished its goals", UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner Sergio Vieira de Mello told the Steering Committee in his opening statement. "Asylum has been upheld, genuine refugees have been recognized and resettlement has been generously provided. Returnees have been fairly and humanely received under the watchful eye of UNHCR."
Mr. Vieira de Mello noted that UNHCR assistance to returnees in Viet Nam and the Lao People's Democratic Republic would continue. However, he said, "UNHCR cannot continue indefinitely to spend for one Vietnamese non-refugee nearly eight times as much as we spend for a Rwandan refugee. UNHCR cannot justify continuing its care and maintenance expenditure... for a caseload not in need of international protection."
On 1 February, there were 1,721 Vietnamese recognized refugees in South- East Asia and Hong Kong, and 36,390 non-refugees. Of those Vietnamese non- refugees, 19,801 were in Hong Kong. There were also 6,130 Laotian refugees in Thailand, and 160 screened-out Laotian non-refugees. Over 74,000 Vietnamese and Laotian refugees had resettled to third countries. More than 77,000 non- refugees had already returned, voluntarily, to Viet Nam, and some 27,000 had returned voluntarily to the Democratic Republic.
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