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Cablegate: Unhcr: "No General Threat" in Vietnam Central Highlands;

VZCZCXRO3608
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHHI #3070/01 3600938
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 260938Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4201
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 2285
RUEHZS/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 1156

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HANOI 003070

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS AND PRM, BANGKOK FOR REFUGEE COORDINATOR, GENEVA
FOR RMA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM HUMANR PREF CB VM
SUBJECT: UNHCR: "NO GENERAL THREAT" IN VIETNAM CENTRAL HIGHLANDS;
REFUGEE STATUS RECOGNITION RATE DROPPING

Ref: Hanoi 188

HANOI 00003070 001.2 OF 003


SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) At a December 15 briefing to Hanoi-based diplomats, UNHCR
highlighted that the overall environment for Vietnamese ethnic
minorities in the Central Highlands was improving, despite an
increase of arrivals to Cambodia in 2006. Refugee status
recognition rates have dropped significantly in the last one and a
half years while training of local Vietnamese authorities has
improved in a general atmosphere of increased openness. UNHCR
visits with Central Highlands returnees in December show many seek
family re-unification while a lack of knowledge and understanding of
U.S. visa programs and regulations are pervasive. End Summary.


UNHCR BRIEFS HANOI DIPLOMATIC COMMUNITY
--------------------------------------

2. (SBU) On December 15, UNHCR Senior Policy Officer Giuseppe de
Vincentis and Vietnam Chief of Mission Vu Anh Son briefed
Hanoi-based diplomats on the results of their December 6 - 12
monitoring trip to Dak Lak, Gia Lai, and Dak Nong provinces in the
Central Highlands of Vietnam. UNHCR has an objective goal of one
hundred percent returnee monitoring, and it will return to Gia Lai
Province in January 2007 for further monitoring visits. The UNHCR
stated that there is currently "no general threat" of systemic
discrimination against ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands.
In addition, De Vicentis provided extensive case detail on the 2006
arrivals of Vietnamese ethnic minorities into Cambodia.


VIETNAMESE ARRIVALS TO CAMBODIA INCREASE
----------------------------------------

3. (SBU) As of early December, UNHCR reported that 228 Vietnamese
ethnic minority individuals from the Central Highlands had arrived
in Cambodia during 2006. This is a sixteen percent increase of
Vietnamese ethnic minority arrivals compared to the year prior.
Forty percent of the arrivals traveled directly to Phnom Penh, also
a significant increase from 2005 (NFI). Upon UNHCR examination of
these 228 individual cases, the following determinations were made:

-- 70 individual cases were rejected for refugee status by UNHCR
after their first interviews;
-- 38 individuals were rejected refugee status as the final
determination;
-- 58 individuals are currently awaiting a final status
determination;
-- 37 individuals were recognized as refugees (of these, three have
already gone to the United States and one died of heart failure);
and
-- 25 individuals voluntarily returned to Vietnam.

4. (SBU) Of those individuals refused refugee status by UNHCR, most
were refused under the "lack of well founded fear" clause in
determination guidelines. Currently, those cases that have been
"rejected" are under review by the USG. In November 2006, a first
tranche of three individuals were deported to Vietnam after their
cases were reviewed and rejected both by the UNHCR and by the USG.
A second tranche of twenty-two deportations occurred on December 18.
UNHCR reports that these involuntary returnees did not resist
deportation.


REFUGEE STATUS RECOGNITION RATE FOR VIETNAM DROPPING
--------------------------------------------- -------

5. (SBU) UNHCR told us that the overall refugee recognition rate for
Vietnam has dropped from one hundred percent to sixteen percent over
the last year and a half. UNHCR does not want to classify this as a
"general trend" yet, because they still want to look at individual
cases. However, UNHCR reports a definite trend of more openness in
Vietnam, especially given the desire in Vietnam for WTO accession
and the hosting of the APEC Summit. In addition, it has been more
than one year since UNHCR received any Vietnamese referrals from the
NGO Human Rights Watch. Nevertheless, the UNHCR officials commented
that the gap between rich and poor is growing in Vietnam, and this
is causing, in part, more Vietnamese ethnic minority individuals to
want to leave, as well as a desire by many to join relatives in the
United States. UNHCR will continue to monitor this trend to see if
the declining refugee rates continue.


GOVERNMENT OF CAMBODIA CONCERNED WITH CURRENT INFLUX

HANOI 00003070 002.2 OF 003


--------------------------------------------- -------

6. (SBU) According to UNHCR, the Government of Cambodia (GOC) is
concerned about the recent influx of Vietnamese and believes that
UNHCR itself, along with various NGOs, may be encouraging the
exodus. The GOC is currently sending all incoming Vietnamese
arrivals to the UNHCR-administered camp site. In addition, UNHCR
told us that since October 10 GOC officials are observing the
UNHCR's Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process. UNHCR described
this as a positive development, as the GOC is "building capacity"
while not interfering in the process. UNHCR says it has "received
complaints" as to why it still maintains a refugee site for
Vietnamese in Cambodia, when Vietnamese can "live so well now" in
Vietnam.


UNHCR MET WITH OFFICIALS IN CENTRAL HIGHLANDS
---------------------------------------------

7. (SBU) UNHCR representatives traveled to Dak Lak, Gia Lai and Dak
Nong provinces in the Central Highlands in December to meet both
with local officials and recent ethnic minority returnees. With
regard to local authorities, UNHCR was pleased that training for GVN
authorities down at the commune level (below district level) is
occurring. Local authorities are receiving training on UNHCR
mandates for returnees. UNHCR reiterated a general feeling of "more
openness" on this trip and a better filtering of information from
national to provincial to local government levels, due in part,
UNHCR believes, to WTO accession and APEC Summit preparations.
Nevertheless, UNHCR reported several problems in their discussions
with local GVN officials:

-- Local officials often complained that returnees have developed a
"sense of immunity." Returnees know they have "protected" status.
As a result, they are quick to make claims of government
"harassment."
-- Local officials also complain that because of this "sense of
immunity" there is a delay in returnees' re-integration into
society.
-- Local officials have also begun to complain because they are
required to provide compensation for workdays missed by returnees
because of UNHCR interviews. Local officials now want UNHCR to
provide compensation to the returnees.

8. (SBU) UNHCR found the atmosphere more relaxed at the provincial
level. For example, when they met with Gia Lai Province People's
Committee Chairman Pham The Dzung, who was previously uninterested
in developmental assistance, he actually suggested three new
micro-project proposals to enhance the integration of returnees. He
also asked UNHCR to cover transportation costs for the returnees
from the border after adamantly rejecting this two years ago, when
the original MOU with UNHCR was signed. (Note: the GVN did not
initially want UNHCR involved in providing assistance to returnees.
It is unclear to what extent these comments by locals reflect a
shift in that GVN policy.)


REQUEST FOR MORE USG VISA PROGRAM INFO
--------------------------------------

9. (SBU) UNHCR reported that almost everywhere they traveled in the
Central Highlands, local GVN authorities asked for improved
information dissemination on all USG family reunification and visa
programs and expressed a desire to avoid illegal immigration. In
particular, several local authorities complained to UNHCR about the
USG VISAS-93 Program and "complicated regulations." Authorities
reported to UNHCR that some Vietnamese had "sold their houses" only
to find out that they did not qualify for participation in the U.S.
Government VISAS-93 Program. UNHCR also suggested to us that the
U.S. Government do more information dissemination on the VISAS-93
program and other U.S. immigrant visa and family reunification
programs at the local levels. (See Comment below.)


RETURNEE INTERVIEWS NOT ALL SMOOTH
----------------------------------

10. (SBU) With regard to ethnic minority returnee interviews, UNHCR
did see some resistance from lower level officials in permitting
private interviews of returnees. There were usually local policemen
present during UNHCR returnee interviews. UNHCR noted that a
separate EU Mission earlier in the year reported government
officials disguised as local village elders.


MANY SEEK FAMILY REUNIFICATION IN THE UNITED STATES

HANOI 00003070 003.2 OF 003


--------------------------------------------- ------

11. (SBU) Many of the ethnic minority individuals interviewed by
UNHCR stated that they returned to Vietnam voluntarily because life
in Cambodia had been more difficult than they had expected. In Dak
Lak, UNHCR investigated why a group of ethnic minority individuals
suddenly left Vietnam in July and August. UNHCR said its
investigation showed that, for the most part, their exodus it was
linked to a desire for family re-unification and resettlement.
UNHCR found that many returnees had relatives in the United States
and thought that going via Cambodia, they could get around the more
time-consuming and uncertain U.S. visa process.

12. (SBU) In the case of four Vietnamese ethnic minority students
currently in Phnom Penh, interviews with their respective families
in Dak Lak revealed very different reactions. However, once again,
the stated desire of all four students is to immigrate to the United
States or to join relatives in the United States via the refugee
process in Cambodia. One student is from a very well-off, coffee
farming family. All of the ethnic minority families of the four
students reported that they had been treated well by local
Vietnamese authorities and faced no problems with harassment. In
fact, during this particular investigation, local authorities
actually informed UNHCR about the families and led them to their
homes.


UNHCR DEBRIEFS WITH GVN MFA
---------------------------

13. (SBU) As follow-up to their Central Highlands monitoring visit,
UNHCR met with GVN MFA Consular Department Director General Bui Dinh
Dzinh, who covers refugee and re-settlement issues at the MFA.
Dzinh told UNHCR that he is pleased with the situation in the
Central Highlands. The UNHCR training courses are improving
"provincial competency" at the commune level. In addition, Dzinh
told UNHCR that the GVN wants to comply with its tri-partite (GVN,
GOC, UNHCR) MOU but does not object to ethnic minority individuals
leaving Vietnam if they so desire. These ethnic minority
individuals are, nevertheless, welcome back to Vietnam. Dzinh
explained to UNHCR that deportation is the GVN's "least preferred
method" for handling these cases, because the GVN does not like
"forcible returns" and the publicity that they generate.


COMMENT
-------

14. (SBU) Mission Vietnam concurs with UNHCR's assessment of a
gradual improvement in conditions for ethnic minorities in the
Central Highlands. Our field work also supports the UNHCR
assessment that a solid majority of those attempting to cross the
border are motivated by economic or family reasons and not by
generalized government oppression in the Central Highlands. We are
pleased with reports of increased training for local authorities at
the district and commune levels and will track this to see if it is
sustained. We continue to monitor emigration of ethnic minorities
from the Central Highlands to Cambodia and visit with returnees.

15. (SBU) Comment Continued: We have heard the complaint from
Central Highlands officials about "confusion" in the VISAS-93 family
reunification process before. Our sense, based on extensive
interviews of VISAS-93 applicants is that this complaint is
exaggerated and is used as a "talking point" to portray the United
States as responsible for "hardship" or "disunity" in the ethnic
minority communities in the Central Highlands. While we cannot
guarantee that every applicant will follow our instructions, our
procedures clearly spell out that no prospective immigrant should
sell their property or take any other life-changing action until
their U.S. petition is approved and until they have received a
Vietnamese passport. End comment.

ALOISI

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