Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Vietnamese Refugees.


asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the attitude of the Government in relation to the Vietnamese refugees; if any requests have been received to accommodate some of them in this country, the terms of any such requests and the details of the response made thereto.

The Government are deeply sympathetic to the plight of the Vietnamese refugees and are considering how, within our capabilities, we may assist to the greatest degree possible in the task of relieving their situation. The Deputy will be aware that on 22 December the Minister for Foreign Affairs announced a contribution of £30,000 to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for its relief programme for these refugees. This is in addition to Ireland's regular annual contribution to UNHCR and to £10,000 which we made available in 1977 for Indo-Chinese refugees.

In 1975 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) requested the Government to admit three Indo-Chinese refugee families. In July 1976 UNHCR asked the Government to participate in a programme for resettling Indo-Chinese refugees. On both occasions the Government expressed their regret that due to current economic circumstances, which had given rise to difficulties for refugees previously admitted from Chile, it would not be feasible to admit Indo-Chinese refugees. Following consultations organised by UNHCR in Geneva in December 1978, involving Vietnam, south-east Asian countries which have taken in refugees to date, and a number of countries outside that area, including Ireland, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees drew the attention of UN member states to measures he considered should be taken to alleviate the plight of the refugees. These included acceptance of refugees for resettlement by a far wider range of countries than heretofore, and further financial contributions from the widest possible range of countries. The High Commissioner has since appealed to governments represented at the consultations in Geneva, which have undertaken to admit refugees or are considering doing so, to accelerate the rate of resettlement of refugees. Apart from this appeal, a request to accept a number of refugees for permanent residence in Ireland has been received from a group of Irish voluntary agencies.

The Deputy will appreciate that prior to any decision being taken, there are a number of factors to which the Government must give careful consideration. These would include difficulties which refugees might be expected to experience in adapting to life in Ireland and in particular in finding employment.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs on 8 February met with representatives of the Irish Red Cross Society and of interested voluntary organisations with a view to discussing practical arrangements for the reception and settlement of refugees who might be admitted to Ireland. An examination of these measures is being undertaken as a matter of urgency. It is hoped that the result of this examination will facilitate a decision on this country's capacity to accept and settle refugees.

Arising out of the reply, which is comprehensive, am I correct in thinking that since I put down this question I saw an announcement in the paper that a decision had been taken to accept a number of these refugees?

The matter is under consideration. The meeting which I indicated took place between the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Red Cross and other organisations, including representatives of CONGWOOD, selected a small working group to make a submission to the Minister for Foreign Affairs in relation to the resettlement and employment problems and so on. Pending reception by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of that report from that selected group, he will make a report to the Government.

I am aware of the discussions between the Minister and interested bodies but I seem to recall seeing in the last few weeks a figure of 400 mentioned as being agreed in principle.

The Deputy is quite right. A figure of 400 has been mentioned but there is nothing certain about it.

There is not a decision to have any more?

I was going to compliment the Minister on taking a decision——

The Deputy will be able to compliment him in the near future. We accept that we have a responsibility in the international field.

I understand that the problems have to be gone into in detail, but is the Minister aware of the urgency of this matter in view of the suffering these people have been going through? Can we expect a decision by the Government very soon?

The Deputy can expect a Government decision in the near future but I am not privy to when the future will be in that context.

Is the Minister fully aware that people on these boats are being threatened with death?

All these matters are being taken into account and the Deputy can be certain that the Government will move with the utmost expedition.

The remaining Questions will appear on tomorrow's Order Paper.