Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 11:43 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Vietnam

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Vietnam , 10 June 2002, available at: [accessed 21 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Vietnam continued to host an estimated 16,000 refugees from Cambodia at the end of 2001. Of those, some 13,000 were ethnic Vietnamese who arrived primarily between 1993 and 1994 and were living in Mekong Delta provinces. Another 2,945 ethnic Chinese, who had arrived in the late 1970s and early 1980s, resided in four refugee camps established in 1979 by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Binh Duong and Binh Phuoc provinces and in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).

UNHCR only considers the 2,945 ethnic Chinese – and not the 13,000 ethnic Vietnamese – to be refugees, because they view the ethnic Vietnamese to be locally integrated and self-sufficient. UNHCR provided the ethnic Vietnamese with one-time assistance and has had no involvement with the group since 1995, when it recorded the 13,000 figure. However, the Vietnamese government still considers both groups as Cambodians who are temporarily working and living in Vietnam.

Although the government allows the ethnic Chinese refugees living in the camps to travel anywhere in the country to work, the refugees must obtain permits from the local authorities each time they leave the camps.

In 2000, the government began considering ways to enable the Cambodian refugees to become citizens of Vietnam, although no plans had been finalized by the end of 2001.

Some 295,000 refugees from Vietnam (mostly ethnic Chinese) remained in China, including about 1,000 in Hong Kong. In June 2000, Hong Kong closed the last remaining camp for Vietnamese refugees, and later said that it would allow 1,400 Vietnamese who remained in Hong Kong, including the nearly 1,000 with refugee status, to apply for permanent residence.

Nearly 1,000 Montagnard asylum seekers who fled Vietnam during the year were in Cambodia at year's end.

Human rights organizations and other international observers expressed concern about Vietnam's human rights record. Human Rights Watch noted that Vietnam "took several major steps backward during 2001, with religious rights in particular coming under attack."

Montagnard Asylum Seekers in Cambodia

In March, ethnic minorities from Vietnam's central highlands, known collectively as Montagnards, began streaming into Cambodia's Mondolkiri and Ratanakiri provinces, fleeing a government crackdown on ethnic unrest that began in February.

The Montagnards, who are mostly Christian, reported government burnings of house-churches, other human rights abuses, and land-rights violations.

The arrivals to Cambodia were the latest of a few thousand Montagnards who have fled Vietnam since the fall of Saigon. Vietnam's communist government is still distrustful of the hill tribe minorities, many of whom fought alongside American troops during the Vietnam War. In recent years, Vietnam has economically revitalized the central highlands, largely by moving ethnic Vietnamese settlers there to grow cash crops. The result has been a growing marginalization of the minorities.

Vietnam demanded the immediate return of the Montagnards on the grounds that they had crossed the border illegally.

In March, Cambodia arrested and detained 24 Montagnards. The Cambodian government later relented to international pressure and agreed to allow UNHCR to interview the asylum seekers. The next month, in a move that angered Vietnam, the United States resettled as refugees 38 UNHCR-approved Montagnards, including the 24 who had been initially arrested. Vietnam said the resettled refugees were members of the outlawed organization FULRO (United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races), which fought successive Vietnamese governments for decades. Vietnam accused U.S.-based ethnic Vietnamese of inciting the recent unrest.

Subsequently, more than 1,000 Montagnards fled into Cambodia. Provincial officials in Cambodia forcibly returned an unknown number to Vietnam – perhaps as many as several hundred.

Cambodia later agreed to provide temporary protection to the Montagnards until conditions improved sufficiently in Vietnam – another decision that angered Vietnam and soured relations between the two governments. The asylum seekers were to be housed at two sites operated by UNHCR.

UNHCR pressured the Vietnamese government to allow access to the highlands to assess prospects for repatriation. In July, tripartite talks between Vietnam, Cambodia, and UNHCR broke down when Vietnam refused to allow the refugee agency such access.

In late September, Vietnam and Cambodia signed an agreement to step up security along their border to prevent "illegal border crossings."

In December, the Vietnamese government changed its policy regarding UNHCR access to the central highlands, and a second round of tripartite talks was set for January 2002. Prior to the talks, Human Rights Watch warned that, while Vietnam had made access to the central highlands difficult, "everything we know suggests that it's still not safe for Montagnards in Cambodia to go home." Rights groups also warned that Vietnam could impose retribution on Montagnards returning from Cambodia.

At year's end, 963 Montagnard asylum seekers remained at the UNHCR-administered sites in Cambodia. A number of others were believed to have crossed the border into Cambodia without the refugee agency's knowledge.

UNHCR had confirmed Cambodia's forcible return to Vietnam of about 250 Montagnards by year's end, although unconfirmed reports indicated that the figure could be higher.

U.S. Resettlement

The United States continued to offer resettlement to some former Vietnamese asylum seekers who returned home. Under the Resettlement Opportunity for Vietnamese Returnees (ROVR) program, U.S. officials re-interviewed eligible returnees for possible U.S. resettlement. The United States admitted 289 Vietnamese through ROVR in fiscal year 2001, which ended on September 30. Officials said about 50 ROVR cases had yet to be interviewed.

The United States also processed residual cases from the former U.S. Orderly Departure Program (ODP), which included sub-programs for former reeducation camp prisoners, Amerasians (who are granted immigrant visas but are eligible for refugee benefits), and others. During fiscal year 2001, the United States admitted 374 Amerasians (including their family members), 222 immediate relatives of previously admitted refugees and persons granted asylum, and 2,171 others – including former reeducation camp detainees, Montagnards, and cases processed under the McCain Amendment for adult children of formerly admitted refugees. Under all ODP and ROVR programs, the United States admitted 3,056 Vietnamese during the fiscal year.

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