Cablegate: Unhcr Pleased with Progress in Ethnic Minorities

Published: Wed 23 Nov 2005 09:38 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) Summary and Comment: UNHCR Asia/Pacific Director
Janet Lim and other UNHCR representatives briefed the
Ambassador November 21 on the current positive tone of UNHCR-
GVN relations and the state of play of Vietnamese ethnic
minorities in Cambodia. Although the GVN remains reluctant
to allow an expatriate Chief of Mission in Vietnam, it has
facilitated visas for out-of-country UNHCR staff and
arranged returnee monitoring visits by local diplomats.
UNHCR representatives also described positive meetings with
U.S. Congressional staffers and expressed the desire to work
more closely with them in the future. For reasons that are
unclear, Vietnamese ethnic minorities continue to arrive in
Phnom Penh, although word does seem to be spreading in
minority communities in Vietnam that crossing into Cambodia
is not a good idea. The Ambassador urged UNHCR
representatives to remain in close contact with the USG,
ensure that those arriving in Phnom Penh are given the
chance at status determination and undertake efforts to get
the word out on the good work UNHCR continues to do.
Mission will work with Embassy Phnom Penh and UNHCR to
understand better who is still traveling to Cambodia and
why. On the issue of DPRK asylum seekers, the GVN may be
pragmatic provided the matter is quiet and low-key. On the
Khmer Krom crossing into Cambodia, UNHCR reports that the
issue has calmed down since August. End Summary and
Vietnamese Ethnic Minorities/Central Highlands
--------------------------------------------- -
2. (SBU) UNHCR Asia/Pacific Director Janet Lim met November
21 with the Ambassador to discuss ongoing issues related to
Vietnamese ethnic minorities in Phnom Penh, returnees, DPRK
asylum seekers and ethnic Cambodians (Khmer Krom). Lim was
joined by Regional Representative Hasim Utkan and Vietnam
Chief of Mission Vu Anh Son. Contrasting the current good
state of UNHCR-GVN relations with one year ago, Lim
expressed gratitude for the USG's and others' support for
UNHCR's efforts. This includes undertaking monitoring
visits to the Central Highlands, which the Ambassador noted
are important for third countries to carry out, but are
still ultimately the responsibility of UNHCR. While in
Vietnam, Lim will meet with Standing Vice Foreign Minister
Le Cong Phung. (Note: Lim was originally scheduled to meet
with VFM Nguyen Phu Binh, who had to cancel. That the GVN
upgraded Lim's interlocutor rather than arrange a meeting
with a Director General is a positive indication of how
things are between UNHCR and the GVN. End Note.)
3. (SBU) Lim explained that the GVN has made clear its
reluctance to expand UNHCR's presence in Vietnam. At the
same time, the GVN issued a multiple-entry diplomatic visa
to Regional Representative Utkan. UNHCR's next step will be
to seek a similar visa for its putative expatriate Chief of
Mission, who will be based in Bangkok "for the time being."
The Ambassador noted that, sooner rather than later, UNHCR
will need an expanded presence in Vietnam, particularly as
UNHCR's mandate goes beyond addressing the issue of ethnic
minorities and will soon include managing a number of
microprojects in the Central Highlands, including one funded
by PRM. Lim reported that, in a recent letter from Foreign
Minister Nguyen Dzy Nien to the High Commissioner, the GVN
expressed its position that there is no need for an expat
UNHCR representative because Vietnam has no refugees and
"the Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) is finished." "But
UNHCR's work in Vietnam is much more than just CPA," Lim
stressed. However, FM Nien added in the letter that Vietnam
wants to keep UNHCR's "liaison office" and will issue entry
visas to UNHCR staff to regularly visit Vietnam and also
facilitate visits to returnees by local diplomats.
4. (SBU) Turning to U.S. Congressional interest in the
Central Highlands, the Ambassador urged UNHCR to be as
transparent and open as possible in dealing with the Hill.
There are a number of senior staffers and others who follow
these matters closely and want to help, and the more that
UNHCR can do to facilitate their understanding of the
situation on the ground, the better. Utkan added that,
during a recent visit to Washington, he encountered a great
deal of interest among Congressional aides, and he hopes to
develop a strategy for passing information to staffers,
particularly those with "open minds."
5. (SBU) The UNHCR representatives described the November 3
voluntary repatriation of ten ethnic minorities, eight
originally from Dak Lak Province and two from Gia Lai
Province. These ten individuals did not undergo a status
determination process, but rather decided to return to
Vietnam after receiving counseling from UNHCR. The
Ambassador questioned this way of doing business, noting
that it is important to give refugees who appear in Phnom
Penh the fullest possible hearing. This may also include
involving USCIS. The USG needs to know about these cases,
and we need to stay in communication with UNHCR, the
Ambassador stressed. UNHCR can also increase its
effectiveness by putting its case on record. It has a good
story to tell regarding returnees and should not shy away
from taking credit for its efforts to ameliorate the
situation. Director Lim agreed, noting that during the
October Executive Board meeting, the issue of ethnic
minorities did not generate much discussion as it was "no
longer the crisis of the moment."
6. (SBU) Between August and November 21, 122 ethnic
minorities arrived in Phnom Penh, Utkan said. Of these, 54
of them are from Gia Lai Province and arrived two weeks ago.
The remaining 68 are predominantly from Dak Lak Province,
and a number of these are family members of individuals
resettled abroad in 2001 and later. (Note: Based on
information we received from UNHCR, none of these
individuals is among our Visas-93 cases. However, it could
be that the relatives in the United States have not yet
filed an I-730 or we have not yet received the DHS approval.
End Note.) By the end of the year, UNHCR expects to have
processed a total of 820 or 830 individuals, with 600
resettled, 185 repatriated to Vietnam and 65 determined to
be Cambodians posing as Vietnamese ethnic minorities. By
year's end, UNHCR also expects some 160 individuals to be in
Phnom Penh awaiting processing (this figure includes a
number of the 122 currently in the camps). In initial
processing some of these 122 individuals, to date UNHCR has
recommended ten percent for resettlement, with 40 percent
receiving "derivative status" (family reunification) and 50
percent rejected, Utkan explained.
7. (SBU) It is unclear why ethnic minorities are still
crossing into Cambodia, although it seems that word is
spreading among ethnic minorities in certain districts in
Gia Lai that going to Cambodia is not a good idea, Utkan
continued. For example, among the new arrivals, none is
from Ia Grai and Chu Se, two districts that in the past have
had a number of refugees. Utkan added that Chief of Mission
Son recently visited the 13 ethnic minorities who returned
to Dak Lak in September 2004, and all seemed well.
8. (SBU) Turning back to his visit to Washington, Utkan
described his meeting with representatives of Refugees
International, who expressed concern that UNHCR's reporting
on the Central Highlands "jeopardized" the reporting of
Human Rights Watch and others. Utkan countered that UNHCR's
mandate is limited, and the organization has nothing to
hide. Although Refugees International had initially opposed
any kind of screening for ethnic minorities, their position
now is that screening is preferable to forced repatriation,
he continued. Refugees International and others also
advocate that those that have been screened out should have
access to independent counsel during their appeals process,
which UNHCR does not oppose provided UNHCR is not
responsible for the cost. The Ambassador reminded them that
the United States is also opposed to forced repatriation.
Responding to the Ambassador's question about the
"humanitarian group" now in Phnom Penh -- those screened-out
refugees whom Embassy Phnom Penh has referred -- Utkan said
some cases have been accepted, some cases are pending and
one case involving two persons was rejected by USCIS.
(Note: This does not track with information we received
from RefCoord Bangkok. According to these separate figures,
of a total of 23 cases (35 persons), 14 cases (22 persons)
have been approved by DHS and are awaiting further
processing; four cases (five persons) have been denied by
DHS; two cases (two persons) are awaiting DHS's decision;
one case (three person) has applied to Finland; and, two
cases (three persons) have withdrawn their applications.
End Note.)
DPRK Asylum Seekers
9. (SBU) On the subject of DPRK asylum seekers in Vietnam,
Lim observed that, as long as the matter is kept quiet and
low-key, the GVN may be pragmatic and flexible in resolving
asylum cases involving diplomatic facilities. However, if
the incident becomes high-profile -- which, unfortunately,
is what many advocacy groups seek -- then the GVN would
likely feel forced to do something about it. The ROKG has
sought a greater role for UNHCR, which is possible provided
the host government agrees ("something that is not an option
in China"), Lim continued.
Ethnic Cambodians/Khmer Krom
10. (SBU) Regional Representative Utkan reported that the
issue of ethnic Cambodians migrating from Vietnam to
Cambodia has "calmed down" since August. The International
Committee of the Red Cross has assisted some of those
individuals who are facing hardship, and a number of those
who crossed into Cambodia have been declared "ethnic Khmer"
by the RGC. There does not appear to be a magnet effect,
Utkan concluded.
11. (SBU) We look forward to working with Embassy Phnom Penh
and UNHCR to learn more about who the continuing arrivals
from Vietnam are, including where they are from and why they
still choose to cross into Cambodia. Although none of the
family reunion cases that UNHCR brought to our attention
tracks with our own Visas-93 applicants, we will try to
determine whether I-730's have been filed for these
individuals and, if so, where these applications stand. End
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