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Thai Policy of Turning Back Boat People Draws Protests

February 18, 1988|DAVID REYES | Times Staff Writer

About 100 Southeast Asian immigrants rallied at the Orange County Hall of Administration Wednesday, protesting reports that the Thailand navy has turned away hundreds of fleeing Vietnamese boat people.

"We would like to request that the Thai government stop killing our people and to ask our local government (in Orange County) to help," said Hoang N. Phu, a member of the Vietnamese Disabled Vets Assn., who spoke from a wheelchair inside the Board of Supervisors' meeting room.

Rally organizers claimed that in the last three weeks--since Thailand adopted a more restrictive immigration policy--Vietnamese refugees have been forced back from Thailand territory to almost certain death on the high seas. As a result, "hundreds of bodies" have been discovered on beaches in Thai territory, they said.

A State Department spokeswoman said they have had several reports of "local authorities or local fishermen or both" preventing boat arrivals, but they were not initiated by the government of Thailand.

Coincide With Others

Rally organizers held the protest to coincide with similar demonstrations across the country, and in Canada and France on the first day of the lunar New Year.

Organizers handed a draft letter of protest to two representatives for Board of Supervisors Chairman Harriett M. Wieder and Supervisor Roger R. Stanton, whose districts include large Indochinese populations. Representatives for the supervisors said the letter would be forwarded to the county's congressional delegation.

The number of Vietnamese reaching Thailand by sea has tripled in the past year, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, whose figures show that more than 11,000 Vietnamese boat people reached Thailand in 1987, compared to 3,886 in 1986.

The U.N. refugee office, which oversees the operation of the refugee camps in Thailand, shows that more than 113,000 people await resettlement, while another 250,000 people, mostly Cambodians, are in border camps but are called "displaced persons" and generally are not considered for resettlement.

The State Department spokeswoman blamed the government of Vietnam for the current situation involving Vietnamese boat people, which resulted in last week's announced policy by Thailand to turn back all future illegal refugees.

1,000 Forced Back

In a Feb. 9 story in The Times, a Thai official in Bangkok was quoted as saying that an estimated 30,000 Vietnamese are encamped in a smugglers' haven just across the Cambodian border, waiting for the chance to enter Thailand by boat.

A former governor for one of Thailand's provinces was also quoted in the same story saying that nearly 1,000 boat people have been forced back to sea in the last three weeks, presumably to return to Cambodia.

"The root cause is attributed to the policies of Vietnam," for failing to organize the orderly departure of refugees, the State Department spokeswoman said, reading from a prepared statement.

On Jan. 28, it was reported in the Thai press that police forced a boat carrying 40 Vietnamese to turn back.

No incidents have been reported to the State Department since Feb. 11, the spokeswoman said, adding that despite reports about the discovery of bodies, "We have no firm numbers."

U.S. officials are holding talks with Thai government officials and officials from other nations who sympathize with the plight of the Vietnamese boat people and the situation of the Thai government.

Officials have made it clear that the United States "cannot condone any measures that pose a further threat to the lives and well-being of persons attempting to escape Vietnam," the spokeswoman said.

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