Indochinese Refugees

August 26, 1977

Report Outline
Continuing Plight of Refugees
Government Policies on Refugees
Outlook for Refugee Resettlement
Special Focus

Continuing Plight of Refugees

Rising Number Who Flee Communist Regimes

Indochina is a subject most Americans would like to forget. That they cannot forget their country's traumatic 10-year military involvement in Southeast Asia is due in large part to the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled their homes in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos during and after the Communist takeovers in 1975. To date, the United States has accepted more than 150,000 Indochinese refugees, most of them from Vietnam. The vast majority were granted asylum more than two years ago, and subsequent attempts to admit more refugees have encountered considerable opposition in Congress and throughout the country. The Carter administration recently decided to accept an additional 15,000, but there were warnings from Congress that any further large-scale admissions would be resisted.

According to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is, under international law, a person who is outside “the country of his former habitual residence because he has or had well-grounded fear of persecution by reason of his race, religion, nationality or political opinion.” Most of the Indochinese refugees—some 260,000 by the U.S. Committee for Refugees' estimates—fled their countries just before or soon after the Communists took over in 1975. There are now believed to be more than 300,000 refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Many of those who escaped in 1975 were members of the social, political or economic elite and persons who had cooperated with the old regimes or with the American war effort. They fled in fear of the retribution that might await them for their beliefs or previous activities.

Since the initial exodus, tens of thousands more from Laos and Cambodia have evaded government security police and crossed the border into Thailand. Large numbers of Vietnamese have boarded makeshift boats and sailed out to sea in the hope they will be accorded haven elsewhere. No one knows how many have been apprehended, died or been killed attempting to escape, but it is widely assumed that at least half do not make it. Many of the Laotian and Vietnamese refugees who have escaped said they feared arrest and told of the loss of personal freedom, the forced transfer to “re-education camps” and serious economic hardships. Those from Cambodia tell of harrowing death marches and mass executions.

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Oct. 27, 1989  The Politics of American Refugee Policy
May 30, 1980  Refugee Policy
Aug. 26, 1977  Indochinese Refugees
Apr. 11, 1962  Cuban Refugees
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Regional Political Affairs: East Asia and the Pacific