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Opening Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Sixth Meeting of the Steering Committee of the International Conference on Indo-Chinese Refugees, Geneva, 16 March 1995

Speeches and statements

Opening Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Sixth Meeting of the Steering Committee of the International Conference on Indo-Chinese Refugees, Geneva, 16 March 1995

16 March 1995

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to welcome the members of the Sixth Steering Committee of the International Conference on Indo-Chinese Refugees.

We have reached a critical stage in the history of the Comprehensive Plan of Action. Four years ago, I had the privilege to address the Steering Committee for the first time. Since then, I have witnessed the remarkable progress of the CPA, which is rightly cited as a model of international solidarity and burden sharing.

Under the Comprehensive Plan of Action each party, whether countries of origin, first asylum or resettlement, and the donor community, committed themselves to bring jointly this major humanitarian undertaking to a successful conclusion. We can be proud of the fact that all actors of the Comprehensive Plan of Action have so far lived up to their respective obligations and I trust that this commitment will be sustained.

The successes and achievements of the CPA so far have been many. Among them I would like to highlight:

  • individual status determination of over 120,000 Vietnamese asylum-seekers in first asylum countries;
  • repatriation and reintegration of over 70,000 Vietnamese;
  • resettlement of some 79,000 persons determined to be refugees;
  • finding solutions for almost all of some 4,500 minors;
  • virtual ending of clandestine departure;
  • voluntary repatriation and reintegration of almost 25,000 Laotian refugees.

Against these positive and impressive developments, we have to acknowledge that much remains to be done. Despite all our efforts, there are still some 41,000 Vietnamese in first asylum countries. Out of this number, a few remain to be resettled, leaving close to 40,000 persons who have to return home. In Thailand some 3,000 Laotian refugees are in the resettlement process, but for another 8,000 persons voluntary repatriation is the only option.We are keen today, therefore, to address these outstanding issues and to take concrete steps to bring the Comprehensive Plan of Action finally to an end.

The preparatory meeting which met in Kuala Lumpur two weeks ago recommended that the target date of end 1995 should be maintained for completing the CPA activities in the ASEAN countries. For Hong Kong we anticipate that the activities can be completed shortly thereafter. In view of that timeframe, I am particularly pleased that the Government of Viet Nam has agreed to simplify the clearance procedure and also to receive each month 1,800 returnees to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City each month respectively.

I am convinced that with these targets in mind and with the fullest cooperation of all countries concerned, we will be able to obtain concrete and important results in 1995.

As all of you know, the Comprehensive Plan of Action was launched in 1989, almost six years ago. Indeed, the problem of Vietnamese asylum-seekers has been with us now for two decades. Over the years, countless millions of dollars and enormous personnel resources have been devoted to this tragic problem. I can think of no other refugee situation which has received the same amount of per capita assistance and individual attention as has been given to the Indo-Chinese asylum-seekers over the years. We all know the particular historical and humanitarian reasons which led to this situation, but we also know that the attention of the international community towards any group of persons, no matter how desperate their circumstance, cannot be unlimited. I sincerely hope, therefore, that in the coming months, we will succeed in bringing the CPA to a successful conclusion. We need the scarce financial and human resources for other urgent humanitarian problems.

I am also confident that within the framework of the Tripartite Agreements between the Royal Thai Government, the Government of the Lao People's Democratic Republic and UNHCR, and with the help of the European Union, additional small, medium sized and larger settlement sites can be identified. This would enhance the absorption capacity of Laos. In short, we should not unnecessarily prolong the stay in camps of persons who are found not to be refugees. It is in their own interests to be back home in their own country, where their children can go to school, they can be productive members of their community and lead normal lives.

The current funding situation is yet another factor underlining urgency of bringing an end to the CPA. For six years, the CPA has enjoyed extraordinary donor support, for which I am grateful. However, the level of response to the 1995 CPA appeal today is cause for grave concern. I am confident that the measures foreseen in the Declaration of this Sixth Steering Committee will revive the interest of the donor community. I hope donors will respond generously to meet the 74 million US dollar target of the 1995 Appeal.

For my part, let me reiterate that my Office is not only willing but determined to continue to do everything it can within its mandate to implement this final phase of the Comprehensive Plan of Action. To this end, I have asked Mr. Sergio Vieira de Mello, my Director for Policy Planning and Operations to oversee the implementation of the final stage of the CPA. As you know, Mr. Vieira de Mello is no stranger to the CPA. I hope that he and Mr. Blatter will be able to visit the region shortly to ensure the implementation of the agreement reached by this Steering Committee and to resolve outstanding issues.

Let me end my remarks by recalling my visit to the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam last April. I was deeply impressed by the dramatic economic and social changes which are occurring in that country and throughout the South East Asia region. The energy and spirit of enterprise so evident among the population can only leave one with a sense of optimism for Viet Nam's future. It was clear to me during my visit that the Vietnamese authorities are doing everything possible to live up to their commitments under the CPA and to facilitate the reintegration of those who have returned. To those who still linger in the camps in the false hope of being resettled, I say to them: do not lose any more time, seize your opportunity now and return home as quickly as possible to take advantage of international assistance while it still lasts.I look forward to the results of the endeavours of the Sixth Steering Committee. I am confident it will bring us much closer to the end of one of the most protracted, complex and tragic humanitarian problems we have ever witnessed.