Hanoi insists US shares the blame for exodus of Viet 'boat people'
Bangkok, Thailand — Hanoi, frequently castigated for its role in the plight of Vietnamese "boat people," is pointing an accusing finger at the US. The latest charge was leveled by Hoang Nguyen, the Vietnamese representative at a round table of Asian experts in Manila. He accused the US of sharing the responsibility for the quandary of Vietnamese refugees by not aiding a more orderly departure.
"My government has transmitted through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] a list of 31,000 names to Washington," he says. "But since last July only 153 have been picked."
Because refugees can enter the US more easily than immigrants, Mr. Nguyen says Washington is actually encouraging illegal flights from Vietnam. Sending ships to rescue refugees encourages more to flee, he says.
"Vietnam has agreed that those who wish to leave can do so," Mr. Nguyen says. "But when applicants realize it may take them several years to depart as immigrants, they will try to go by illegal means."
Following the July 1979 Geneva conference on refugees from Indochina (Vietnam , Laos, Cambodia), Hanoi and the UNHCR reached a seven-point "memorandum of understanding" concerning orderly departure.
The Vietnamese spokesman believes political motivations lie behind present juridical and technical difficulties.
He says his country faces serious difficulties after the devastations left by the war against the US: a 1977 drought resulted in the loss of more than a million tons of rice; exceptionally violent floods and typhoons in 1978 racked heavily populated areas; the war with China compounded the country's economic, political, and social difficulties.
"By refusing to recognize the new government and to pay war reparations as promised by the Nixon administration, the US exacerbates our economic difficulties which in turn contribute to the exodus of refugees," Mr. Nguyen says.
Even though Vietnam now tries to stem the flow of illegal emigrants -- often by means resulting in hundreds of deaths -- thousands of refugees keep arriving each month in Asian countries, especially in Thailand.
The US is currently negotiating with Hanoi to take refugees directly from Vietnam. Estimates here peg the number to be removed at 1,000 persons a month. The acceptance of refugees from noncommunist Southeast Asian countries would be cut back by the same number.
The news has caused a great deal of concern in Thailand, where most of the refugees are concentrated.
"To benefit Vietnam," the Bangkok Post wrote editorially, "the United States apparently expects that Southeast Asian countries must accept more of the burden of a problem not of their making."
Currently the US takes 10,000 Indochinese a month from Thailand and 4,500 from other countries. The US reportedly has assured Bangkok that its refugee program would not be affected if an agreement is reached with Hanoi. Instead the cutbacks would come in Hong Kong and other ASEAN countries, it is believed.
So far the issue of Indochinese refugees has been dealt with exclusively as a humanitarian problem. Any political discussion of the problem can come about only with Vietnam's agreement and presence, he contends.