165. Telegram From the Embassy in Thailand to the Department of State1

12048. Subject: Vice President Visit: Thai Refugee Situation.

1. We will be forwarding by septel2 our statistical analysis of boat case situation in Thailand. In sum, refugee population in boat case camps in Songkhla and Laem Sing is again dramatically increasing to over 1000 in each. Further, total boat case refugee arrivals in Thailand to date in April have reached 713. April may possibly be record month for boat case arrivals exceeding October 1977 figure of 858.

2. As Dept is aware, PriMin Kriangsak’s decision to reverse Thai policy of refusing boat cases was made over strong opposition of the Ministry of Interior operating levels as well as other elements in RTG. This decision to continue acceptance of boat case refugees was based essentially on USG approaches and in expectation that our upcoming programs would provide major relief. Despite continuing serious bureaucratic opposition to Kriangsak’s decision regarding boat case refugees, to date we have had no evidence of turning away of boat case refugees from the two established camps since December 10. However, MOI resentment of Kriangsak’s decision and our demarches leading to it remain strong and there are continuing pressures at RTG working levels to adopt a de facto policy of discouraging boat case arrivals. (Senior MOI officers still on occasion announce publicly that Thai policy is to send boat case refugees away, despite PriMin Kriangsak’s decision and actual practice.)

3. RTG approach to land case refugees has always been more ambiguous. Essentially, RTG policy discouraging refugees from crossing the Mekong is implemented by governors and local officials in a widely varying manner. On at least three occasions, latest being March 27 incident in Chiang Rai area, local officials have apparently engaged in forceable repatriation of individual refugee groups, in effect turning them over to Lao authorities. More general pattern has ranged from acceptance of refugees by Nan Governor, and more recently the Nongkhai Governor, through verbal efforts to dissuade refugees from entering Thailand to coercive measures forcing refugees across Mekong, but [Page 579] falling short of actually turning them over to Lao officials. Overall result of this policy has been a significant decline in number of land refugees entering Thailand. However monthly statistics show that fair numbers are in fact slipping across border. In particular case of Hmong fleeing from Vietnamese/Lao troops in Phu Bia area and crossing into Nongkhai, RTG is allowing their entry, despite initial negative attitudes of some local officials.

4. Despite tough stance on refugee arrivals, we are also receiving indication that Thai officialdom is studying seriously question of local settlement of at least some land refugees already in Thailand. UNHCR once more April 25 urged this, with lure of significant UNHCR program monies available this year. We expect that in one way or another, PriMin may wish to surface at least general outline of current Thai thinking on local settlement in his discussion with Vice President. Ambassador is scheduled to meet PriMin on April 28 and we may have better reading at that time.3

5. During visit Kriangsak and others may press hard on refugee question and expect Vice President to confirm our intentions regarding major on-going refugee acceptance program as well as our readiness to assist RTG in bearing refugee burden in Thailand. They hope for exposition of concrete USG projected actions to take sizeable number of refugees from both boat case and land camps. RTG obviously expect that our recently announced intention to admit 25,000 Indochinese refugees will permit a significant reduction in current refugee population in Thailand.4 They may be also unrealistically hopeful that virtually all of that number will be from Thailand.

6. In this situation believe it highly important that at a minimum Attorney General’s decision regarding new parole authority be made in advance of Vice President’s arrival and that we be able to explain clearly what impact of new program for Thailand will be over next year. If Attorney General’s decision is not made before visit, Thai may well get impression of continuing delay and drift on our part while their refugee population again begins to mount. This could have an extremely negative impact on Thai policy, particularly when RTG senior levels become aware of latest increase in boat case refugee arrivals. We fear that we are heading for major difficulties in coming months in any event, however hopefully combination of Attorney General’s decision and Vice President’s visit would strengthen Kriangsak’s deter [Page 580] mination to keep to his more humanitarian approach to refugee acceptance.

7. Action Recommended: Early decision by Attorney General on new Indochinese parole program to be announced before Vice President’s arrival in Bangkok.5

  1. Source: Carter Library, Donated Historical Material, Mondale Papers, Foreign Trip Files, Box 129, [Vice President’s Visit to Asia: 4/29–5/10/78]: Thailand—Diplomatic Trip Cables [2/13–6/5/78]. Confidential; Priority; Exdis.
  2. Presumably telegram 12141 from Bangkok, April 27, which addressed the increase of boat refugee arrivals in Thailand. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780180–0059)
  3. Telegram 12328 from Bangkok, April 28, summarized the meeting. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780183–0705)
  4. Derian announced the new program on April 12. See footnote 10, Document 125.
  5. See footnote 4, Document 126.