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Cablegate: Interviews with Visas-93 Applicants Show Some Progress In

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HO CHI MINH CITY 001045

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PREL PGOV VM ETMIN HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: INTERVIEWS WITH VISAS-93 APPLICANTS SHOW SOME PROGRESS IN
CENTRAL HIGHLANDS

REF: A) HCMC 968 B) HCMC 962 and previous

1. (SBU) Summary. HCMC's Refugee Resettlement Section recently
concluded interviews of 124 ethnic minority families as part of
the VISAS-93 reunification process for Central Highlands ethnic
minority families. This was the first time that ConGen staff have
had completely unfettered access to a large number of ethnic
minority individuals from across the Central Highlands. The
applicants were relatives of ethnic minority individuals who fled
Vietnam after unrest in the Central Highlands in 2001. The
results of these interviews confirm improvements in the lives of
ethnic minority families -- including on issues of religious
freedom -- in almost all the provinces of the Central Highlands.
Although police maintain a very visible presence in ethnic
minority villages, the interviewees did not complain of official
brutality and acknowledged that police focus on control of ethnic
minority separatist activities. The exception to the positive
trend is Dak Lak, which, not surprisingly, also has been the only
province that has failed to issue any passports for these persons
under the VISAS 93 program. End Summary.

A Unique Window on Conditions in the Central Highlands
--------------------------------------------- ---------

2. (SBU) Beginning in March, HCMC's Refugee and Resettlement
Section interviewed 124 Central Highlands ethnic minority families
as part of their family reunification (VISAS 93) processing, with
the majority of the interviews taking place in August and
September. 58 were from Gia Lai, 54 from Dak Lak, seven from Dak
Nong, four from Kontum, and one from Lam Dong. These individuals
traveled to HCMC twice; first for an initial pre-screening
interview and later for an interview with a United States
Citizenship and Immigration Services officer. ConGen PolOffs
observed some interviews in August and September, all of which
were conducted by U.S. citizens. This cable summarizes the
findings from these unfiltered accounts of conditions for ethnic
minorities in the Central Highlands.

Infrastructure and Education
----------------------------

3. (SBU) The interviewees indicated that almost all villages have
electricity. Although most villages do not have an integrated
water supply, access to water is not an issue: the villagers use
wells, manual water pumps, or their own gravity-fed systems of
bamboo pipes and channels to funnel the water from streams near
their homes. The interviewees also noted that the educational
level in their villages is rising. They confirm that many
minority children are receiving subsidized education and most
children now have at least some primary education. Some said a
few children had finished secondary school (ninth grade).

3. (SBU) Almost all the interviewees were farmers who told us they
scratched out a living usually growing rice and coffee,
supplemented by manual day labor in local rubber and coffee
plantations. Many told us that they depended on money transfers
from their relatives in the U.S. to supplement their incomes.
From 2002 to 2004, it was difficult to receive money from
overseas. However, for the most part the situation has improved.
Families now receive money transfers through local post offices
and banks. There are few problems with money transfers of USD 200
or less. With larger transfers, police officials temporarily
confiscate some or all the money pending investigation. According
to the interviewees, the police seek to vet who sent the funds,
the intended recipient and intended use. In most cases, the
families reported that they eventually received the funds from
police. In a few cases they still are waiting. For example, one
ethnic minority woman told us that police had temporarily seized
500 dollars sent by her husband from the U.S., telling her that
they feared that she would use the money to purchase cell phones
for separatist activists. (Note: Officials in the Central
Highlands have alleged that organizations outside Vietnam funnel
money into the region to support ethnic minority separatism. End
note.)

Religious Freedom
-----------------

4. (SBU) With the exception of Dak Lak province, the interviewees
made it clear that religious freedom conditions are improving
gradually in the Central Highlands. Protestants can gather to
worship so long as they are not affiliated with the "Dega
Protestant" movement. Protestants in Dak Lak province face a much
more restrictive environment. One family from the village of Buon
Ru in Dak Lak claimed that all bibles in the hamlet were
confiscated and that Protestantism was banned formally in 2002.
As far as the family knew, this was only a hamlet policy; they
understood that conditions for religious practice were better in
other areas. However, one applicant from a village near the
provincial capital of Buon Ma Thuot said that she had to sign a
document in July 2005 agreeing not to have more than ten people in
her house at any time. Another family in a village in Cu Mgar
District stated that officially they were not even allowed to pray
at home but local police allowed them to do so within their
immediate family.

Ever-Present Officials and Dega Separatism
------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Officials and police appear to maintain a very visible
presence in every ethnic minority village. The majority of the
police and government officials are ethnic Kinh (ethnic
Vietnamese) although some are from the ethnic minority communities
as well. Police monitoring was more intense for those individuals
and families that officials suspected of having participated in
protests in 2001 and 2004 or of having ties to the ethnic
separatist Dega movement. Many of the interviewees confirmed that
family members, including spouses in the United States, had
participated in the ethnic minority protests in the Central
Highlands in 2001. A number acknowledged that family members had
been involved in the Dega movement.
6. (SBU) In all provinces, police interviewed the family members
after the flight of their anchors to Cambodia. Their actual
treatment differed greatly depending on the province. In Gia Lai
and Dak Nong, families were interviewed several times but not
harmed. Dak Lak proved to be different as applicants reported
incidents of physical harassment such as beatings or slapping
during police interviews.

7. (SBU) A number of applicants from villages in Dak Lak reported
that they or their children had been detained by police stations
for questioning. In 2002, an applicant's adult son was held for
eight days and questioned two or three times daily to determine
whether or not he brought food and/or money to his father and
others hiding in the forests after the 2001 protests. In 2001, a
family of three was detained for nearly one month in Buon Ma Thuot
because they tried to escape to Cambodia. In another case an
applicant was detained twice for two days in December 2004 and in
March 2005 to "study the dangers of following people who might
urge her to take part in demonstrations." Another applicant was
detained over Christmas 2004 for 13 days for "spreading wrong
information over the telephone." In the beginning of 2005, a
woman was kept at the District Police Officer for three days
because "she had a lot of overseas calls." Dak Lak-based
applicants also reported an oppressive police environment in their
villages. Police would drive by their homes continually, watch
the house all-day/night, follow the applicant and family members,
and search homes at any time. One woman in the Dak Lak commune of
Ea Bar stated that she was placed under surveillance for 24 months
due to her suspected affiliation with FULRO, the officially
defunct ethnic minority armed resistance organization. Other
reported forms of harassment in Dak Lak included a claim from a
family living in Buon Ru village that their home was burned down
and their well was poisoned by other villagers and local
authorities in December 2004. Another Dak Lak resident claimed
that her cell phone was confiscated because she made "too many"
international calls.

The VISA 93 Process
-------------------

8. (SBU) All interviewees reported that they had to receive
official permission to travel outside of their immediate village
area. Most were not stopped along the way or questioned en route
to HCMC for their two interviews. The majority of applicants from
provinces other than Dak Lak reported that they did not face
harassment upon their return to their village after their initial
pre-screening interview. Again, Dak Lak was the exception. Dak
Lak residents complained that documents needed for their VISAS 93
interview, such as their household registration book, the
immigration package from RRS, and their applications for
passports, were held by the police for up to a month; that the
applicants were ordered to report to local police after their
initial RRS interviews and threatened that they would not be
allowed to return for their second interview; one applicant from
Ea Bar commune reportedly was told that "traitors' wives are sure
not to leave Vietnam." (Note: While no Dak Lak Visas 93
applicant has yet to receive a passport from provincial
authorities, almost all applicants were able to return to HCMC for
their second interview with the USCIS officer. Moreover, Dak Lak
has continued to cooperate with legacy refugee programs and issues
needed documents and passports to those beneficiaries, whose
anchors in the U.S. had left Vietnam under a program sanctioned by
the GVN. End note.)

9. (SBU) Interviewees from provinces other than Dak Lak generally
did not complain that officials were obstructing the issuance of
passports and other travel documents. Many delays in passport
processing could be ascribed, at least in part, to the ethnic
minority applicants failing to have basic documents such as birth
and marriage certificates that local officials required. These
documents, often based on affidavits, needed to be issued or
reissued before a passport application could be completed, a
process that local and provincial officials were facilitating.
For example, some applicants noted that local officials were
actively assisting them in filling out their passport
applications. Delays were further compounded by confusion and
ignorance within local bureaucracies on how to handle these cases.
Applicants were often sent to multiple places to pick up or submit
paperwork. The situation is particularly acute in Dak Nong, which
split off from Dak Lak in January 2004, creating new
administrative challenges for the applicants and officials as
paperwork and records are sorted out and the bureaucracy
reorganizes. Most applicants reported that officials did not
solicit bribes. When they did, the bribes amounted to less than
USD 20 per case.

10. (SBU) Albeit slow, every province save Dak Lak has recorded
progress in issuing passports to applicants. For example, to date
Gia Lai has issued passports to 30 applicant families. Dak Lak
has not processed any of the 54 VISAS 93 cases currently on file.
Many Dak Lak-based applicants reported during their interviews
with us that local officials refused to process paperwork for
individuals whose sponsor in the United States had left Vietnam
illegally or was suspected of involvement in anti-government
activities. Some reported that Dak Lak officials refused to
accept or to process their paperwork without giving any
explanation.

11. (SBU) Comment: The results of our interviews reinforce our
own observations that -- outside of Dak Lak -- the situation for
ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands has been improving over
the past year (reftels). It is particularly significant that this
particular cohort is reporting this gradual positive change. As
the left-behind family of persons who fled Vietnam after anti-
government protests in 2001, this group would have been an obvious
target for official harassment and retribution. End Comment.

WINNICK

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