Vietnamese Asylum Seekers:

A Review of Selected Cases in Four Southeast Asia Countries

NSIAD-97-51: Published: Dec 31, 1996. Publicly Released: Dec 31, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the implementation and outcomes of the Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) for Vietnamese asylum seekers in Southeast Asia, focusing on how the refugee status determination process worked for family unit, victim of violence, and general merit cases by: (1) reviewing factual information about such cases from the perspective of international refugee criteria used under the CPA; and (2) examining how the screening process was implemented.

GAO found that: (1) family unity has been an important principle throughout CPA implementation, yet advocacy groups, asylum seekers, and others have raised concerns that some families were unfairly separated during the refugee screening process; (2) the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reviewed hundreds of screened-out cases to determine whether asylum seekers would qualify for resettlement according to established family unity criteria, but found most failed to meet the program criteria; (3) however, UNHCR identified a small number of cases in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines that met the criteria prior to UNHCR mandating the asylum seekers as refugees and forwarded 72 of these cases to U.S. embassies for resettlement consideration; (4) the United States initially accepted 23 of 36 cases for resettlement in Malaysia, but embassies in Indonesia and the Philippines refused to review 36 similar cases, since they were not first mandated by UNHCR; (5) victim of violence cases involved individuals who were physically assaulted on the way to, or upon arriving in, one of the first asylum countries, and according to UNHCR officials, many victims were unable to articulate their claim for refugee status, and UNHCR established special procedures to determine a durable solution in their best interest; (6) GAO's review of cases in Indonesia and Malaysia indicated that UNHCR and these governments followed established procedures for processing victim of violence cases; (7) GAO could not evaluate the quality of social service counselors' assessments of victims' ability to articulate a claim for refugee status, although the assessments described in some detail the individuals' mental condition, situation in camp, and ability to understand and present their claim for refugee status; (8) of the 74 merit cases GAO reviewed, it appears that most did not present strong refugee claims based on evidence contained in the files; (9) many case files were well-documented and presented detailed facts and logical explanations for decisions that were made, while others contained documents that pointed to differences and inconsistencies in the way claims may have been handled, such as incomplete documentation, poorly translated information, different interpretations of screening criteria, lack of legal assistance, and what appeared to be an overemphasis on nonessential points in assessing the credibility of an asylum seeker's claim; and (10) as a result, in some cases, GAO could not determine how well the case files reflected the presentation of the asylum seekers' claims.

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