The Comprehensive Plan of Action for Indochinese Refugees, 1989–1997, has been hailed as a model of international solidarity and burden-sharing and criticized as an example of international buck-passing and questionable compromises. Looking back on this agreement—one in which both Sergio Vieira de Mello and Arthur Helton played significant roles—a fair conclusion might be that it was both. Though flawed in its implementation, however, the CPA does serve as a model of how inter-locking commitments—to asylum, resettlement and repatriation—can promote regional cooperation in response to protracted refugee crises. Considering their roles in the CPA, though they operated from different institutional vantage-points, both de Mello and Helton showed an ability to combine humanitarian principles with political pragmatism.
Terms of Refuge: The Indochinese Exodus and the International Response. By
For half a century (ever since the Japanese invasion of 1942), much of Southeast Asia has been racked by war. In the last 20 years alone, some three million people fled their homes in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. This book is their story. It is also the story of the international community’s response. Spearheading this was the United Nations agency responsible, UNHCR. It pioneered innovations like the Orderly Departure Programme, anti-piracy and rescue-at-sea efforts, and later on, ambitious reintegration projects for returnees. Today the camps in Southeast Asia are closed. Half a million people have returned home. Over two million have started new lives in the United States, Canada, Australia and France.
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Floating villages spread across the surface of the Mekong River’s waterways, playing host to ethnic Vietnamese whose status in Cambodian society is perpetually adrift.
In 1979, the Skyluck carried 2,700 refugees fleeing Vietnam into the Hong Kong harbour, where they were forced to remain on board for more than four months. Andrew Nguyen and his family were among them. Forty years later, his mother’s journals reveal their story.