Vietnamese Asylum Seekers:

Refugee Screening Procedures Under the Comprehensive Plan of Action

NSIAD-97-12: Published: Oct 21, 1996. Publicly Released: Oct 21, 1996.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the implementation of the Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) for the resettlement of asylum seekers from Vietnam and southeast Asia, focusing on: (1) whether Hong Kong and Indonesia implemented CPA refugee status determination procedures in accordance with international standards and criteria; (2) alleged corruption in the program; (3) whether asylum seekers who returned to Vietnam encountered persecution; and (4) U.S. and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) costs associated with CPA implementation.

GAO found that: (1) the CPA agreement stipulated that the first-asylum countries' refugee screening procedures be carried out in accordance with established international criteria and procedures; (2) GAO's examination in Hong Kong and Indonesia indicated that both programs met the CPA's basic structural requirements for refugee adjudication criteria and screening procedures; (3) GAO believes Hong Kong's screening process contained sufficient checks and balances to provide reasonable assurances that asylum seekers' cases could be heard and errors could be identified and corrected; (4) Hong Kong government and UNHCR officials acknowledged screening errors, but officials told GAO they had worked to correct the errors and that the process had improved over time; (5) GAO believes the Hong Kong government and UNHCR officials' screening decisions appeared to be reasonable in 9 of the 10 cases GAO examined; (6) in Indonesia, GAO believes the large majority of asylum seekers with strong claims for refugee status were screened in, due in part to UNHCR's heavy involvement in the screening process; (7) the process in Indonesia provided for both first-instance screening and an appeals procedure involving Indonesian authorities and UNHCR legal consultants; however, few asylum seekers received individual legal assistance; (8) according to UNHCR, it concentrated its efforts in Indonesia on trying to ensure that those with well-founded refugee claims were screened in; (9) rumors of corruption in Indonesia's screening process began at the inception of the screening process; (10) reports, files, and documents provided to GAO by nongovernmental organizations, advocacy groups, former asylum seekers, UNHCR, and other knowledgeable sources indicated widespread corruption in the Indonesia process; (11) GAO did not conduct an independent investigation of allegations of corruption, but, on the basis of documentation available to GAO, discussions with UNHCR officials in Geneva and Indonesia, and UNHCR reviews of the process in 1995, it appeared that corruption was likely; (12) UNHCR monitors in Vietnam have reported that they found no evidence of persecution of returned asylum seekers by Vietnamese authorities; (13) UNHCR had implemented a comprehensive monitoring program that provides reasonable assurance that returnees were not persecuted; (14) UNHCR spent an estimated $444 million on the CPA from 1989 through 1995, excluding unpaid obligations of $139 million in Hong Kong; (15) U.S. contributions to UNHCR for the CPA during the period were an estimated $151 million; and (16) the United States also contributed about $9 million to voluntary agencies in support of CPA activities.

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