Lionel Rosenblatt's op-ed article of May 22 did not adequately reflect Malaysia's position on the Vietnamese Boat People. A number of fundamental points were not mentioned.
Malaysia's humanitarian attitude was clearly demonstrated by the offer of Pulau Bidong as a temporary holding center many years ago. This gesture was made at a not insignificant cost, for no longer are the island and the surrounding seas available for purposes beneficial to Malaysia's own people. Malaysia in no way contributed to the events in Vietnam that cause the outflow of the boat people but has in fact for 10 years accepted the consequences of this outflow. Malaysia has accorded first asylum to 270,000 Vietnamese boat people, a figure unsurpassed by any other first-asylum country.
And Malaysia is not the these people's choice of country of resettlement. Their indisputable aim is to be resettled in the West. Yet today Malaysia is vilified. The fact that Malaysia, with a population of 17 million, received the boat people despite having, without help, to cope with 700,000 illegal immigrants from the Philippines and Indonesia seems not to matter at all.
The Comprehensive Plan of Action adopted by the International Conference on Indochinese Refugees in Geneva in June 1989 is a package and can only be viable if implemented as a package. For an apparent lack of political will, provisions of the comprehensive plan -- particularly in regard to continued clandestine departures of boat people from Vietnam and the nonvoluntary repatriation of nonrefugees whom the United States and others are not prepared to accept for resettlement -- are not being implemented, while demands are made for the implementation of the first-asylum provisions. The selective implementation of the provisions of the comprehensive plan clearly undermines its viability.
Malaysia believes that nonvoluntary repatriation of Vietnamese boat people determined to be nonrefugees will act as an effective deterrent to the clandestine departure of this category of boat people. This will reduce the burden of first-asylum countries. The absence of this deterrent combined with the apparent compassion fatigue of many resettlement countries leaves first-asylum countries, as Mr. Rosenblatt says, with the real fear of ending up as resettlement countries themselves. The practice of first asylum, which is so stridently demanded of us today, has become first-asylum-plus, and this was not the obligation we agreed to accept.
Malaysia fully supports the statement made by first-asylum countries in Manila on May 16, which among other things points to the obligation of any country that opposes the repatriation of nonrefugees to offer an effective intermediate solution, such as the setting up and financing on its own territory of a regional holding center for nonrefugees.
As a member of the international community, Malaysia will continue to be guided by humanitarian considerations in its management of the boat people problem. It will continue to accord temporary refuge but only so long as it is first asylum that is required of us and there is a firm undertaking that all boat people will be either resettled or repatriated within the definite time frame agreed to at the 1989 International Conference of Indochinese Refugees.
DATO' A. S. TALALLA Ambassador of Malaysia Washington