Cablegate: February 24 Repatriation Discussions

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
SUBJECT: February 24 Repatriation Discussions

1. (U) Summary. A joint DOS/DHS delegation proffered a new
approach to resolving the issue of the acceptance by Vietnam
(GVN) of its nationals, based on the successful arrangement
now in place with the Royal Cambodian Government (RGC). GVN
officials agreed to review the new approach, but held to
their previous position that categorically excludes certain
nationals, such as those who entered the U.S. under refugee
programs. GVN officials eventually put forth their own new
proposal, suggesting a formal agreement that would exempt
from repatriation any Vietnamese national who arrived in the
U.S prior to 1995. The Vietnamese agreed to review the U.S.
proposal and provide their reaction by the end of March.
End Summary.

2. (U) February 24, Cheryl Sim, Deputy Director, EAP/BCLTV,
led a DOS/DHS delegation (USDEL) to explore with GVN
interlocutors a new approach to resolve the long-standing
issue of the repatriation of removable Vietnamese nationals.
In opening comments, Sim detailed the history of discussions
on the topic and reiterated the potential for the imposition
of visa sanctions under INA section 243(d) for countries
refusing to receive back their nationals. Sim sought
clarification on a recent development on repatriations: The
GVN is reportedly refusing to renew expired travel documents
for Vietnamese nationals intended for repatriation,
irrespective of the date or method by which they entered the
U.S., on the grounds that the U.S. and GVN have no
repatriation agreement. 1

3. (U) Urging a new approach, USDEL members presented to
the SRV side as a possible model a Memorandum of
Understanding (MOU) as well as a subsequent addendum to the
MOU signed with the RGC in 2002-2003 that provide for case-
by-case review of individual cases without reference to
categorical exclusions, facilitates verification of
nationality by RGC officials, and provides limited
reintegration assistance for returned Cambodian nationals
via a non-governmental organization (NGO). USDEL reiterated
the position that a formal, written agreement is not a sine
qua non for further resolution of this matter; on the
contrary, written bilateral agreements on immigration
matters are the rare exception for the U.S. USDEL stressed
that "concrete results" were paramount for the U.S. soon on
this issue.

4. (U) Mr. Bui Dinh Dinh, Director of Consular Dept, MFA,
and head of delegation, opened his response with positive
assertions that a solution might be found with further
"goodwill" and "humanitarian interests" taken into account.
Dinh stressed that the GVN would not refuse to take back any
of its nationals who have violated U.S. law, as long as "an
appropriate mechanism" governs such arrangements. While
acknowledging the U.S. side's interest in a fresh approach,
Dinh said that the GVN side had been under the impression
that the U.S. side was still interested in discussing a
formal agreement along the lines of the draft text last
discussed between the two sides in March 2001. Dinh added
that the GVN has signed formal repatriation agreements with
governments of Canada, Australia, Germany, and the
Netherlands, and is currently negotiating agreements with
Poland, Switzerland, Russia, and the Ukraine. Because
bilateral relations vary, individual treatment and separate
agreements are necessary, emphasized Dinh.

5. (U) Dinh further stressed the necessity of a formal
government-to-government "written agreement" to guide
respective GVN agencies and local authorities on procedures
for implementing repatriations, noting difficulties for
provincial or auxiliary government organs to abide by terms
if they are not detailed explicitly by the central
government. Dinh also repeated prior distinctions between
those who left Vietnam on valid passports in recent years
and those who departed during the post-Vietnam conflict
refugee-era (i.e., roughly, the period between 1975 and
1994). Dinh raised the problem of correctly identifying the
nationality of those Vietnamese who left without GVN issued
documents, those who left illegally or fled judicial
proceedings. Dinh also detailed anticipated problems with
reintegrating those who no longer have relatives, homes,
connections, or jobs to return to in Vietnam. Dinh argued
that the vast majority of those who left Vietnam contributed
to Vietnamese society and that to force only the bad cases
back now would not present a satisfactory scenario for

6. (U) In pressing the GVN case for reintegration
assistance, Dinh noted that Vietnam had accepted more than
100,000 Cambodian refugees and the GVN provided financial
assistance to them. Dinh argued that "humanitarian values"
necessitate such assistance in cases such as these. Dinh
also stated that the Netherlands-GVN repatriation agreement
could serve as an appropriate model on this issue. Dinh
provided a cost-breakdown of approximately $3,000 per

7. (U) In regard to USDEL's concerns that the GVN was no
longer issuing documents to Vietnamese nationals in the U.S.
who had arrived after 1995, USDEL presented to the GVN a
copy of a recent request for the issuance of a travel
document for a Vietnamese national that had been presented
to Embassy of Vietnam in Washington, DC. This request was
rejected by GVN embassy because of the absence of a
repatriation agreement with the US. Dinh noted that he would
look into the matter but went on to further imply that a
formal repatriation agreement would include documented
Vietnamese nationals. This implication represents a change
in GVN position. In prior discussion with GVN, the GVN
committed to accepting the return of documented Vietnamese
nationals from the United States. This had been the
practice until recently.

8. (U) During the afternoon session, the parties returned
to assess specific steps to be taken to achieve progress.
Sim suggested that the parties consider the possibility of
an interim agreement as a basis for a pilot program that
would encourage mutual trust and build capacity on
repatriations. Sim proposed an arrangement along the lines
of the Cambodian agreement, but stated the U.S. would
appreciate comments for tailoring it to the Vietnam context.
She again reiterated the U.S. side's strong desire to see
progress made in order to avoid the imposition of any
sanctions under section 243(d) of the INA.

9. (U) Dinh agreed to consider all points, but insisted
that prior 2001 draft text had already made substantial
progress and that previous GVN positions had been approved
by higher authorities. Dinh cautioned that to start anew
would cause difficulties and would necessitate higher
governmental approval to change directions. Dinh also
remarked on specific differences between Cambodia and
Vietnam and that any future agreement would have to take
fully into account Vietnam's particular situation. He
emphasized that a "written document signed between
governments" is essential. Dinh repeated earlier comments
about scope and coverage of an agreement and requested the
U.S. side's understanding in handling returnees. Dinh
argued that some Vietnamese fled Vietnam following the
Vietnam War to avoid charges for crimes. Dinh stated that
if these Vietnamese were to return, they could still face
charges upon return. Dinh made a last push for some sort of
cut-off date prior to which Vietnamese who entered the U.S.
would be exempt from repatriation. Dinh suggested the date
of the official resumption of U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic
relations in 1995 as a useful point of reference.

10. (U) The U.S. side replied that a reply to such a
proposal could not be made at this time, but that we would
take the GVN proposal under advisement. Sim requested the
GVN side to give careful consideration to the new U.S.
proposal for an agreement along the lines of the U.S.-
Cambodian program and to let us have a response via Embassy
Hanoi within several weeks. Dinh promised to do so.

11. (SBU) Comment: Discussions on repatriations of
removable Vietnamese have lingered for over a decade without
concrete progress. The recent revelation that the GVN may
now be refusing to accept back nationals who entered the
U.S. more recently raises special concerns, and calls into
further question the GVN's desire to abide by international
norms in taking back their nationals. Sensitivity over
refugees and Vietnam War-era issues remains, especially
given the fact that many removable Vietnamese left Vietnam
with U.S. assistance under refugee or U.S. government-
affiliate status. It is hard to imagine the GVN really
coming to terms with these would-be returnees. Moreover,
even in those cases where the GVN has entered repatriation
agreements with other states, acceptance of wartime-era
Vietnamese has been inordinately slow, grudging, and
problematic. End comment.

12. (U) The GVN's delegation: Mr. Bui Dinh Dinh, Director
of Consular Dept, MFA, Head of delegation; Mr. Nguyen Xuan
Long, Chief of Section for Management of Exit & Entry of
Vietnamese, Immigration Dept, MPS; Mr. Nguyen Minh Vu,
Deputy Director, Consular Dept, MFA; Mr. Le Van Nam, Expert,
Consular Dept, MFA; Mr. Trinh Duc Hai, Expert, Consular
Dept, MFA; Mr. Vu Thanh Binh, Deputy Director General of the
Immigration Dept., MPS; Mr. Nguyen Luong Ngoc, Expert,
Consular Dept, MFA; Ms. Hoang Thanh Nha, Expert, America's
Dept., MFA; Ms. Nguyen Thi Thanh Thao, Interpreter.

13. (U) The U.S. delegation: Ms. Cheryl Sim, Deputy
Director, EAP/BCLTV; Mr. James Hergen, Asst. Legal Adviser,
L/EAP; Mr. David Venturella, Asst. Dir., Detention and
Removal Operations, DHS; Mr. Larry Mizell, Sr. Advisor,
Border and Transportation Security, DHS; DCM Robert Porter,
Embassy Hanoi; Clark Ledger, Consular officer, Embassy
Hanoi; Hanh Pham, Consular FSN advisor and interpreter, U.S.
Embassy Hanoi; Rick Sell, Officer in Charge, DHS/Ho Chi Minh
City; Kimberly Yen, Immigration officer, DHS/Ho Chi Minh
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