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

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Vietnam

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Vietnam , 1 June 2003, available at: [accessed 20 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 hosted an estimated 16,000 refugees from Cambodia at the end of 2002. Of those, some 13,000 were ethnic Vietnamese who arrived primarily between 1993 and 1994 and were living in Mekong Delta provinces. Another 3,000 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.

UNHCR only considers the 3,000 ethnic Chinese – and not the 13,000 ethnic Vietnamese – to be refugees, because they view the ethnic Vietnamese as locally integrated and self-sufficient. The Vietnamese government, however, 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 2002.

Some 295,000 refugees from Vietnam (mostly ethnic Chinese) remained in China, including about 1,000 in Hong Kong. According to UNHCR, the 294,000 in mainland China have achieved "full local integration." However, because China has not granted them citizenship, they have no status in China other than that of refugees. In addition, Chinese officials occasionally discuss repatriating some of the population. UNHCR, therefore, still considers all 294,000 to be prima facie refugees and provides limited assistance to some of them.

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.

More than 100 Montagnard asylum seekers who fled Vietnam in 2001 and 2002 remained in Cambodia at year's end, pending U.S. resettlement. An unknown number of Montagnards were in hiding in the Cambodia-Vietnam border region.

Montagnard Asylum Seekers in Cambodia

In 2001, more than 1,000 ethnic minorities from Vietnam's central highlands, known collectively as Montagnards, sought protection in Cambodia. The Montagnards, who are mostly Christian, have reported burnings of house-churches, other human rights violations, and land-rights violations by the Vietnamese government.

The arrivals to Cambodia were the latest of a few thousand Montagnards who have fled Vietnam since the fall of Saigon in 1975. Vietnam's communist government remains distrustful of the hill tribe minorities, many of whom fought alongside American troops during the Vietnam War.

Cambodia reluctantly granted temporary asylum to the Montagnards who arrived in 2001, permitting the United States to resettle 38 and allowing UNHCR to assist nearly 1,000 others in camps. However, Cambodia also forcibly returned at least 250 Montagnards during 2001, and said it would prevent further border crossings.

In January 2002, UNHCR signed an agreement with Vietnam and Cambodia to repatriate the nearly 1,000 Montagnards in the two UNHCR-run camps. The tripartite agreement collapsed in March, however, when UNHCR said both governments had violated the terms of the agreement. A day earlier, more than 400 Vietnamese – both civilians and government officials – had arrived in buses at one of the camps and threatened and physically abused refugees and UNHCR staff. UNHCR denounced the "unprecedented" level of coercion to return as "unacceptable."

In addition, Vietnam refused to allow UNHCR access to the central highlands to monitor repatriation.

Subsequently, the United States agreed to resettle the 915 Montagnards remaining in the camps. By year's end, 791 had been admitted to the United States. The remaining 124 were likely to be admitted in 2003, along with an additional 20 Montagnards who sought UNHCR's protection after the camps' closure.

During the year, Vietnamese courts sentenced to imprisonment or house arrest a number of Montagnards for having illegally migrated to Cambodia or having helped others to do so. In one case, the court said a U.S.-based Vietnamese group had forced local hill tribe people to flee to Cambodia.

Vietnam also continued to interrogate, imprison, and physically abuse Montagnards for peaceful expression of their religious and political views.

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 41 Vietnamese through ROVR in fiscal year 2002, which ended on September 30. Officials said no more than 26 ROVR cases had yet to be processed.

The United States also processed residual cases from the former U.S. Orderly Departure Program (ODP), which included sub-programs for former re-education camp prisoners, Amerasians (who are granted immigrant visas, but are eligible for refugee benefits), and others. During FY 2002, the United States admitted 326 Amerasians (including their family members), 154 immediate relatives of previously admitted refugees and persons granted asylum, and 1,979 others – including former re-education 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 2,500 Vietnamese during the fiscal year.

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