VNM figures


Vietnam hosted some 9,500 ethnic Chinese Cambodians who arrived in 1975. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) considered them stateless as Cambodia no longer recognized them and most had lost any documentation proving their nationality. About 2,300 lived in four camps in Binh Duong and Binh Phuoc Provinces and Ho Chi Minh City since the 1980s. The rest lived mostly in and around Ho Chi Minh City. The Prime Minister promised to begin naturalizing them in 2007 and, in November, the Government agreed to waive all fees (about $200 per person) but postponed the process until 2008.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reports of forced return of refugees during the year.

In July, four North Koreans crawled over the gate at the Danish embassy in Hanoi to seek asylum. Authorities later transferred them to South Korean officials. In August, another five scaled the fence of the Indonesian embassy. Some ten police officers stood guard outside the embassy afterwards, in uniform and plainclothes, where normally there had been only one or two. In response to North Korean asylum seekers entering foreign diplomatic missions in Hanoi in 2005, the Government called on diplomatic missions and international organizations to hand over third-country intruders but there were no reports of them doing so in 2007.

Vietnam was not party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or either of the conventions on statelessness and had no refugee law, nor did UNHCR process asylum cases under its mandate. The 1992 Constitution provided that the Government "shall consider granting asylum to foreigners struggling for freedom, national independence, socialism, democracy, and peace, or are harmed because of their scientific work." There were no reports, however, of anyone applying for or receiving asylum under this provision. The Constitution reserved to citizens its protections of "inviolability of the person" and "life, health, honour and dignity" and its prohibition of "all forms of harassment and coercion [and] torture."

The 1998 Law on Vietnamese Nationality provided that the State "creates conditions for all children born on the Vietnamese territory to have nationality and for stateless persons permanently residing in Vietnam to be granted the Vietnamese nationality under the provisions of this Law." Because the Government did not consider Cambodian refugees to be stateless, however, none could avail themselves of that law.

Detention/Access to Courts

Authorities did not detain any refugees or asylum seekers for illegal entry or presence or for exercising their rights during the year. The Government did not allow regular independent monitoring of its prisons but did approve a UNHCR request to visit a returned Montagnard in prison in Thanh Hoa Province for organizing other Montagnard departures but UNHCR did not do so. In March, the Government allowed a foreign diplomat to visit a prison in the north and, in October, allowed foreign observers to visit activists in a prison near Hanoi.

The Government did not issue identity documents to refugees as it did to nationals but some local authorities did issue them registration books including all family members. Many born in the camps held only temporary, informal birth certificates that the Government issued years ago and could not get formal certificates because the latter required marriage certificates, which the Government denied them. The Cambodian Government denied their claim of Cambodian nationality and refused to certify their marital status, preventing them from legally marrying in Vietnam.

The Constitution extended to all its due process rights and protections against arbitrary detention.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

The Government generally required travelers to carry People's Identity Cards, which were available only to citizens. Local authorities, however, issued refugees travel permits valid for six months to travel to other provinces or to Ho Chi Minh City. The permits were free of charge, and allowed refugees to travel throughout the country.

The Government did not issue them international travel documents except for laissez-passers if they were resettling.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Refugees did not have the right to work legally in Vietnam. It was difficult for refugees to work for companies or the Government because they lacked legal status and identity documents. They worked for fellow ethnic Chinese in Ho Chi Minh City, however, or in the areas surrounding the camps without work permits. This consigned them to low-paying jobs without the protection of labor legislation or insurance.

Refugees did not have the legal right to acquire, hold title to, or transfer property, nor could they open bank accounts. Even to own motorcycles – an essential means of transportation – they had to register their titles in the names of citizens. In 2006, the Government incorporated Thu Duc, which included one of the refugee settlement areas, as part of Ho Chi Minh City and planned to relocate the residents to make way for development. The stateless, however, unlike their Vietnamese neighbors, had no legal right to compensation.

Public Relief and Education

Refugees could go to primary and secondary schools on par with nationals, but because they had no identity cards, could not take the national examinations for higher education. They received standard health services but less public relief, rationing, and assistance than nationals, depending upon the goodwill of provincial authorities rather than law.

There were no restrictions on humanitarian aid to refugees either in or out of the camps but the Government did not mention them in the 2003 Comprehensive Poverty Reduction and Growth Strategy or the two subsequent annual reports it prepared for international donors or other development plans or requests for development aid.

USCRI Reports

  • World Refugee Survey 2003: 4.3 Million Newly Uprooted Find Post-September 11 World More Hostile and Refuge in Short Supply (Press Releases)
  • USCR Lauds Joint US-Philippines Accord to Resettle Vietnam's Last Boat People But Urges Improvement (Press Releases)

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