‘Going under’ – that was what the Indo China refugee task group found
themselves facing in Ottawa. There was a ‘collision’ between the resource demands of overseas processing and maintaining the air bridge to Canada and the operational needs of
matching private settlement offers in Canada. Canadian private settlement organizations were vocal about the disconnect between their offers to settle and support the refugees, followed by a long silence from immigration authorities, culminating with a phone call essentially saying ‘your refugees will be at your door tomorrow’. Overseas operations were equally vocal about the impossibility of both processing the refugees and timely feeding of the reporting/matching system.
The answer to the question ‘do we move paper or refugees’ was a no-brainer.
Part of the solution came from an historical precedent – The Berlin Airlift.
Then, the West faced the problem of trying to get an unending stream of
supply flights into Berlin airports in face of the blockade and some of the worst weather in
Europe. If a plane couldn’t land it would be ‘stacked’ in the air over Berlin in the same way that unmatched refugees would be ‘stacked’ at the refugee reception centers in Canada – with the same results. Very quickly the Berlin stack consumed so many resources and grew so unmanageable as to prevent any planes from landing. The solution – deceptively simple – you
either landed on your first pass or you turned around and flew back to West Germany.
The Indochina refugee variant was that the refugee was either matched with the
private sponsor by the time of departure from South East Asia or entered Canada as a ‘government sponsored refugee’. Another part of the solution was the ‘miraculous/fell off the back of a truck’ acquisition of computer facilities apparently without due regard to procurement rules and priorities. The technology made it that much more efficient to match sponsors and refugees.