Annie Guest reported this story on Friday, April 26, 2013 12:42:00.
ASHLEY HALL: Vietnamese people are fleeing their country to seek asylum in Australia in some of the greatest numbers since the post Vietnam War period of the 1970s.
Four-hundred-and-sixty Vietnamese have arrived by boat since January.
Australia’s Vietnamese community and refugee advocates say Vietnam’s repressive communist regime has recently upped its fight against dissidents.
Critics say the Australian Government doesn’t do enough to publicly pressure the Vietnamese Government over its human rights record.
Our reporter Annie Guest spoke to the president of the Independent Council for Refugee Advocacy, Marion Le.
MARION LE: Laotian, Cambodians and Vietnamese poured out of Indo-China across the sea in terrible conditions and ended up in the camps of South-East Asia where they of course were seeking, you know, protection from the Communist government who had come to power as a result of the loss by America and our forces there.
ANNIE GUEST: And these are the people who Australians come to know as the Vietnamese boat people and their numbers dropped off through the 80s, there was a spike in the mid-90 and now almost 20 years later there’s been almost 500 Vietnamese asylum seekers arriving by boat this year. What can you tell us about the situation in Vietnam that might be driving that?
MARION LE: Well about three or four years ago we had some more boats arrive and those people from what I’ve seen of some of their applications were in fact saying that they had been pushed off their land by land grabs by the Communist government and that they didn’t get any compensation. But lately there’s been an incredible crackdown inside Vietnam in relation to people who are seeking to criticise the government, for example journalists have been imprisoned, people that are called cyber dissidents.
ANNIE GUEST: And these are bloggers and so on who’ve been on the internet.
MARION LE: That’s right, that’s right. And you know I’ve mentioned cyber dissidents but we’ve seen repression and the recent killing of a leader of the Mong Christian minority groups. And the Buddhists for instance too are experiencing a current crackdown.
ANNIE GUEST: And recent years the then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton visited Vietnam and publicly raised Human Rights issues and internet freedom issues, how would you characterise Australia’s response to the situation in Vietnam?
MARION LE: Well Australia’s been, you know, remarkable quite about that. I think that most people haven’t really understood that the Labor government was never really categorically against the fall of the south. It was the Liberal Party who spoke out against the repressive regime of the Communist Party in Vietnam and it was the Liberal Party who welcomed the refugees.
ANNIE GUEST: Indeed, Malcolm Frazer has been well known for his handling of the Vietnamese boat people.
MARION LE: Yes that’s right.
ANNIE GUEST: So you say that the Labor governments have been quiet in the past and are quiet now on, publicly, on human rights issues in Vietnam, what do you say, what steps do you say they should be taking?
MARION LE: You know, with any area of the world where we have concerns about human rights violations then we should face up to them.
ANNIE GUEST: Is there an argument that it’s harder for Australia to publicly raise such concerns and prefers to do so in private to protect economic interests and trading arrangements with Vietnam, as it is a lot closer than the United State?
MARION LE: You know, I really don’t know what is driving the Labor Government on not coming to grips at least publicly with these issues and the reason that we’ve sent so many of these people recently off to Manus Island has to be, you know, the Government, the department doesn’t want people becoming aware of whey those people have fled.
ASHLEY HALL: The president of the Independent Council for Refugee Advocacy, Marion Le speaking to Annie Guest. And The World Today has sought an interview with the Foreign Minister, Bob Carr but he’s not been available.