Vietnamese fly home to face uncertainty on US resettlement
GREG TORODE in Hanoi and SCOTT McKENZIE
Vietnam has moved to back a troubled US resettlement plan for boat people, but warns that 'concrete steps' must still be hammered out - a blow to volunteers now returning home on promises from Washington.
The Foreign Ministry statement came as Vietnam yesterday received its 50,000th volunteer returnee from Hong Kong on board one of two flights.
As many as 6,000 boat people have volunteered to go back, seeking screening under the State Department's Resettlement Opportunity for Vietnamese Returnees.
The scheme allows them to claim wartime links, religious reasons or a fear of persecution to obtain US residency, but gives Washington wide discretion regarding whom it selects.
And no firm agreement has yet been reached between Hanoi and Washington on arrangements to allow US interviewers into Vietnam - despite the US formally touting the deal in Hong Kong's camps in April.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman commented that Vietnam was ready to create 'favourable conditions' for returnees from Hong Kong and Southeast Asia to leave the country through normal channels.
'On the basis of such principles, the authorities of Vietnam and the US are trying to exchange ideas to seek a reasonable mechanism before coming to concrete steps,' the spokesman said in a statement to the South China Morning Post.
The scheme, open to anyone who applied to return voluntarily from October last year to June 30, was created after Vietnam rejected the far more comprehensive 'Track Two' deal which proposed special American screening centres in Vietnam.
United Nations officials thrust a bouquet of roses and a tin of butter biscuits towards a bewildered-looking Nguyen Xuan Dung as he stepped onto the tarmac of Noi Bai Airport, proclaiming him volunteer No 50,000.
Mr Dung, 37, will return to Haiphong with his wife and four children after a futile seven years in Hong Kong.
Many returnees struggle to adjust; competition is tough for jobs in the new market economy and prices rise as business expands.
Amid yesterday's departures, one of the 310 volunteers escaped last night.
The fugitive, Manh Dong, 36, was seen climbing a perimeter fence after escaping from an airport bus.
THE COST OF REPATRIATION People returned since March 1989: 50,145 Number of flights since March 1989: 261 (including commercial flights) Approximate cost per seat: $2,000 Non-refugee Vietnamese population: 13,956 Annual cost of keeping a Vietnamese in a camp: about $32,000 Hong Kong Government costs since arrivals began in 1979: $8.18 billion UNHCR costs since arrivals began: $1.46 billion British Government costs since 1989 when screening began: $981 million