This article, by W.C. Robinson, explores the ‘Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese Refugees, 1989-1997’. It (CPA) has been hailed as a model of international solidarity and burden-sharing, and criticized as an example of international buck-passing and questionable compromises. In the early years of the Indochinese movement there was an understanding that the reign of vindictive oppression that followed the communist take-over of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos justified offering resettlement to anyone who survived escape by land or sea. Canada’s ‘Indochinese Designated Class’ was designed on that assumption. By the mid-1980s, however, officials and even some NGOs involved in assisting or resettling those who fled Vietnam or Laos in particular appeared to be motivated by a hope of economic opportunity rather than fear of persecution. A survey conducted by a senior UNHCR protection expert concluded that a large proportion of cases were ‘derivative’, based on the past experience of relatives. Negotiation of the CPA, under the brilliant UNHCR diplomat Sergio Viera de Mello, established a cut-off date after which all new arrivals would be screened to determine whether they could be considered Convention refugees.
While the CPA has been criticized, Robinson points out that while between the five pre-CPA years of 1984 to 1989, 442,168 refugees were resettled while under the first years of the plan, 1990 to 1995, 507,549 were resettled. He notes that all of the Vietnamese refugees who had arrived before the CPA cutoff including many who had been previously refused by at least one country were resettled along with 15,000 who arrived after the cutoff and were found to meet the Convention definition.