Cablegate: Unhcr On Central Highlands, Stateless Khmers
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHHI #1463/01 2261719
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 141719Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6108
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 3539
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 1191
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HANOI 001463
STATE FOR EAP/MLS AND PRM, BANGKOK FOR REFUGEE COORDINATOR, GENEVA
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM PREF CB VM
SUBJECT: UNHCR ON CENTRAL HIGHLANDS, STATELESS KHMERS
REF: A. HANOI 301; B. 06 HANOI 3070; C. HANOI 1202; D. HANOI 1456
HANOI 00001463 001.2 OF 003
1.(SBU) In a July 20 meeting with the Ambassador, UNHCR
representatives discussed their recent monitoring missions to the
Central Highlands (CH), the problems of stateless Khmer in the
South, and UNHCR reservations regarding the One UN Initiative.
UNHCR Regional Representative Hasim Utkan and UNHCR Chief of Mission
Vu Anh Son said the GVN has taken many positive steps to improve the
situation of ethnic minorities in the CH, but greater engagement and
monitoring by the international donor community is still needed.
The Ambassador highlighted U.S. engagement in the CH, and emphasized
the need for close coordination on refugee issues. Utkan said the
GVN has not taken the necessary steps to normalize the status of
9,000 stateless Khmer in the south; the Ambassador said he would
raise the issue in his farewell calls on the Vietnamese leadership.
Utkan said UNHCR has some reservations about the One UN Initiative;
the Ambassador warned that the initiative would not be truly
effective if some UN agencies opt out. End Summary.
UNHCR MONITORING MISSIONS SHOW PROGRESS
2.(SBU) Utkan told the Ambassador that in June, UNHCR conducted
refugee policy training programs for local authorities in Dak Lak
and Gia Lai provinces. On two separate missions, UNHCR met with
ethnic minority returnees from Cambodia and visited GVN-subsidized
institutions in Dak Lak Province. Utkan said UNHCR visited Dak Lak
Province because it was a "relative newcomer" to the returnee
phenomenon, and UNHCR did not have as much experience there as it
does in Gia Lai Province where it already has a good rapport
developed with GVN authorities and runs a few micro-projects, some
funded by the U.S. Department of State. In all three visits, UNHCR
noted the low level of education among ethnic minority groups in the
CH and their entrapment in a "vicious cycle" of poverty and
unemployment. Utkan also remarked on the much lower socio-economic
status of ethnic minority groups compared to the majority ethnic
Kinh in the CH.
3.(SBU) Despite the great needs and many problems of ethnic
minorities in the CH, Utkan said the trend is positive, and the GVN
has made obvious progress on its commitment to redress the
inequities of the past in the region. Utkan lamented that the
problems faced by ethnic minorities and refugees in Thailand and
Laos were currently much worse.
4.(SBU) Utkan reported that, since the mass protests in the region
in April 2004, there had been tremendous progress on confidence
building between UNHCR and the GVN. UNHCR now has private access to
ethnic minority returnees from Cambodia, can visit the CH region
during the Christian holidays of Easter and Christmas and has
cooperated well with the GVN, especially since the trilateral MOU
with the GVN and Government of Cambodia (GOC) was signed in January
2005. None of this was possible before 2005, Utkan said.
5.(SBU) Utkan reiterated his concern about the extremely low level
of education among the returnees he interviewed. Some could not
count nor recognize monetary denominations. The reasons given as to
why the returnees left for Cambodia in the first place were similar:
the men heard of other departures and left to chase promises of a
better life via resettlement overseas. Some of them paid brokers up
to 200 dollars (roughly a year's salary for many in Dak Lak) for
transit to Cambodia. None of the returnees reported any particular
police harassment upon returning to the CH, although one returnee
was facing a fine because he had stolen and sold cows in order to
finance his travel to Cambodia.
6. (SBU) Although his mission was not concerned with religious
freedom, Utkan said he had heard that the Southern Evangelical
Church of Vietnam (SECV) authorized meeting points had increased in
the region. UNHCR's overall message to local authorities was that
the returnees need to be seen as and treated as "victims" rather
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH RAISES PROBLEMS
7. (SBU) Utkan noted that there had been an incident during another
UNHCR official's June visit to Dak Lak that had led to allegations
of torture. The visit had been suggested by local authorities for
familiarization with local conditions, not to monitor refugees.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), one of the individuals the
UNHCR official interviewed was arrested the day after the visit and
held for three days and beaten by the police. Afterwards, he and
five fellow villagers fled to Cambodia.
HANOI 00001463 002.2 OF 003
8. (SBU) Utkan said that, upon receiving the report from HRW, he
personally tracked down the individuals who were in Phnom Penh by
then and found numerous inconsistencies between what they said and
what Human Rights Watch reported. HRW had reported that the
individual had been beaten so badly he needed medical treatment.
The individual told Utkan he did not require medical treatment and
an examination by a UNHCR physician found no signs of injury. The
local police chief said the individual had been called twice to the
police station for questioning but there had been no arrest. (Note:
Utkan provided ConGen HCMC RefCoord an update on UNHCR's
investigation on August 8. He indicated that UNHCR headquarters in
Geneva had not yet decided how to respond to HRW. End note.)
9.(SBU) Utkan concluded that "die-hard groups" want to create
credibility gaps to drive a wedge between the efforts of UNHCR and
the United States. Utkan said the issues become more complicated
when fraudulent claims are presented. There are some who believe
any assistance to people fleeing Vietnam is legitimate, the
Ambassador noted, and we have to stay in close contact to avoid
this. We need to see the new refugee policy working and have every
expectation that it will.
NEED FOR ENGAGEMENT IN CENTRAL HIGHLANDS
10.(SBU) Utkan said he was extremely impressed by the vocational
school they visited in Dak Lak capitol Buon Ma Thuot and recommended
more visits and greater engagement by the international donor
community. The ethnic minority school is an example of GVN
"affirmative action" that must be supported by the international
community to narrow the wide socio-economic gap between the ethnic
minorities and the majority ethnic Kinh. The school has over 2,000
students living in dormitories, learning one of thirty trades, from
welding to furniture-making to computer training. Utkan added that
he hoped such a school could be replicated in Pleiku, the capital of
Gia Lai province. The school is supported by the Asian Development
Bank (ADB) and the computer center is supported by the Canadian
International Development Agency (CIDA) while Japan supports a local
clean water project.
11.(SBU) Utkan said there is tremendous need for greater engagement
by the international donor community, specifically through
investment in education, general foreign investment and job
creation, and programs to encourage ethnic minority youth to seek
formal sector employment. Utkan said he had met with
representatives of the G4 (India, Germany, Japan and Brazil) and
found all moving in the same direction. He has also met with
business leaders including Microsoft, Merck and Nike when they
visited Thailand and he is encouraging them to work in Vietnam.
Microsoft is already proposing an IT learning center in the Central
Highlands. The Ambassador commented that the United States is much
more active in the region than we were three years ago, and we now
have significant projects there - local officials are seeing their
value and we are hoping that success in these projects we have will
help lead to funding for further projects.
MOJ LOGJAM ON STATELESS KHMERS
12.(SBU) Uktan said the GVN Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has not made
the necessary moves to resolve the cases of over 9,000 ethnic Khmer
refugees in southern Vietnam, and this issue needs to be addressed
now. Utkan said he felt that the GVN MFA had been active in talking
to the GOC about a resolution of the stateless Khmer cases but that
the GVN MOJ, which has GVN operational authority for resolution of
the cases, had not moved and "does not want to move."
13.(SBU) Utkan noted that the GVN Prime Minister had specifically
called for resolution of these cases and the "refugees themselves"
were very anxious, so he was very disappointed by the lack of
cooperation from MOJ. The Ambassador noted he intended to raise
this issue in his courtesy calls on senior Vietnamese officials (Ref
D). Utkan said the People's Committees of Binh Phuoc and Binh Duong
Provinces were now looking at steps to resolve the cases,
circumventing the national MOJ.
THE OTHER GROUP OF STATELESS: VIETNAMESE BRIDES
14.(SBU) The Ambassador raised another group of stateless people in
Vietnam is made up of Vietnamese women who marry Korean, Chinese or
Taiwanese men, give up their Vietnamese citizenship and, before they
gain Korean, Chinese or Taiwanese citizenship, divorce their
husbands and return to Vietnam. Utkan said he appreciated the
interest of the United States in this issue, and agreed that it
requires changes in Vietnam's nationality law. It is not a new
HANOI 00001463 003.2 OF 003
issue and has even been discussed at the National Assembly, but
there is still no clear mechanism to define statelessness under
Vietnamese law. The Ambassador noted that another aspect of dealing
with the issue is to ensure that Vietnamese women are educated about
their situation before they leave to go into a foreign marriage.
REFUGEE NUMBERS STABLE; MORE ROUTES INTO CAMBODIA
15. (SBU) Utkan said that, overall, the number of arrivals in
Cambodia from Vietnam is stable, averaging 250 to 300 persons per
year. However, UNHCR has noted more arrivals through regular border
crossings south of the Central Highlands into Cambodia and more
direct arrivals into Phnom Penh. Utkan said that UNHCR is
registering about 15 percent of ethnic minorities presenting
themselves in Phnom Penh as refugees and that those who could
qualify for follow-to-join status with already settled refugees make
up about a third of these.
OPTING OUT OF ONE UN?
16.(SBU) Utkan said UNHCR was not heavily involved in the "One UN"
Initiative. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees does not want to
compromise his mandate, and while UNHCR has great confidence in the
abilities of the current UN Resident coordinator in Vietnam it has
some doubts about whether the UN's Resident Coordinator in Vietnam
would be effective in dealing with the normal tensions with the GVN
that UNHCR encounters from time to time.
17. (SBU) The One UN document needs to be rewritten to cover the
issue of statelessness, Utkan said, and he was not sure Vietnam
would support this. The Ambassador said we are watching the One UN
project with great interest, as we want the UN to be as effective as
possible. With Vietnam one of eight pilot "One UN" countries, the
issues that have cropped up need to be solved back at UN
headquarters. The effectiveness of the One UN Initiative would
obviously be undercut if some agencies opt out, the Ambassador
18.(U) This cable was coordinated with Consulate Ho Chi Minh City.