126. Telegram From the Embassy in Thailand to the Department of State and the Embassy in the Philippines1

12853. Manila pass Vice President’s party for (Holbrooke/Oakley). Subject: Indochinese Refugees: Suggestions for Coping With Increased Boat Refugee Flow.

[Page 438]

1. We share concerns Embassy Kuala Lumpur has expressed Ref A2 regarding boat case refugee situation.

2. The heavy arrival rate of boat refugees in Malaysia and Thailand during April will inevitably create serious strains, threatening the present policies of both countries permitting temporary asylum. While we can hope that the monsoon weather starting in June will result in a temporary reduction in boat arrivals, the likely prospect is for resumption of a heavy influx later in the year. We are fortunate in the face of this boat refugee increase that the Australians will be accepting an additional 2000 refugees between now and June. However, even with this Australian effort and a continuing US program, we will also have to speed the rate of movement of boat refugees after they are approved for the US (see para 5) if we are to have even temporary impact on growing boat case refugee populations.

3. Despite the impending boat refugee crisis, we must not lose sight of the fact that the total Indochinese refugee population in UNHCR-supported camps in Thailand is over 100,000. There was forcible repatriations from north Thailand to Laos as recently as March 27 (Ref C).3 Pressures on Prime Minister Kriangsak to reverse his policy of accepting Indochinese refugees are gathering strength. The new U.S. program should offer some assurance to the Thai of an orderly and substantial flow of Indochinese boat refugees to the United States.4 However, it is essential that our program encompass a balance between boat cases and land refugees to encourage Thai acceptance of refugees coming across border. Further whatever hopes we have for significant refugee resettlement is dependent on continuing USG acceptance of a good number of refugees from inland camps.

4. Ultimately we may soon have to face the unpalatable fact that in order to continue accepting the two classes of refugees whom we have been assisting and for whom the new program is designed, the 25,000 annual projection may well be too low—particularly if we wish to see the RTG move towards resettlement of a significant number of refugees in Thailand. However, for the present, at a minimum, we must try to show enough movement on both the boat and land cases [Page 439] to maintain a hospitable attitude in Thailand and Malaysia toward asylum for refugees.

5. Ref C made some suggestions for speeding up processing of boat refugees for the U.S. as a means of encouraging continued host government hospitality towards new arrivals. From our point of view, the principal time delays are in the following areas:

A. Obtaining of sponsorships

B. Medical examinations and particularly medical clearances for those who do not pass the examination.

C. Movement to the capital and booking out

D. Inability to consider for 30 days from the taking of the UN bio those refugees without close relatives in the U.S.

E. Only periodic availability of INS officers

6. To ease these problems and facilitate faster movement, we have the following recommendations, some of which we are employing in Thailand, and many of which should be applicable to programs in other countries:

A. Assign a UNHCR representative to each major boat camp (already in effect in Malaysia, not yet in Thailand) so that bios may be taken immediately on arrival.

B. Institute a centralized UNHCR-controlled checklist program similar to the blue card system used in Malaysia.

C. Conduct simultaneous immigration interviews with the Australian delegation.

D. Station an INS officer in Thailand for coverage of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore (under consideration).

E. Conduct medical examinations of approved refugees in the camps rather than in the capital (already initiated in Thailand) so that there is no medical clearance delay in the capital.

F. Mail to ACVA, in advance of INS approval, biographic data on those refugees who have at least a 90 per cent chance of being approved. Category I refugees are the most likely candidates (Department suggestion).

G. Open a reception center in Macau.

H. Establish a special ICEM unit to expedite departure of refugees to the U.S. (such an arrangement worked well in the EPP in 1976).

7. There is a final proposal which would have the greatest immediate importance in clearing up the backlog of refugees approved for the U.S. program—namely, the establishment of a transit center in the United States. This would allow the immediate departure of approved refugees and would thus be the most important step we could take in insuring that countries of first asylum accept new boat refugees on a [Page 440] continuing basis. We recognize there are domestic political obstacles. But given the seriousness of the refugee situation we believe we have to address this issue again since a reception center in the US would have more impact than all the other innovations combined, both on refugee movement and politically on the Thai and other governments.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Donated Historical Materials, Mondale Papers, Box 129, [Vice President’s Trip to Asia: 4/29–5/10/78]: Thailand—Diplomatic Trip Cables [2/13–6/5/78]. Confidential; Priority to the Department; Immediate to Manila. Sent for information to Canberra, the UN Mission in Geneva, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, and INS.
  2. Presumably reference is to telegram 3603 from Kuala Lumpur, April 28, which described the problem in Malaysia caused by the growing number of Vietnamese refugees in the country. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780181–0737)
  3. Presumably reference is to telegram 11298 from Bangkok, April 19. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780170–0725)
  4. On May 2, Attorney General Bell informed Congress of his intention to use his parole authority to admit an additional 25,000 Indochinese refugees in the following year. (Telegram 112091 to Manila and Bangkok, May 2; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780187–0736)