Vice President Mondale, in what he called "one of the most moving experiences" of his Asian journey, yesterday shouldered his way through a crowded refugee shelter here, listening to first-person accounts of terror, mass murder, and daring escapes from Communist Indochina.
He emerged pledging action and money to aid the refugees.
"The refugee problem is a product of the most pressing and tragic human rights problems in the world today," the vice president declared. "I believe there in no more profound test of our government's commitment to human rights than the way we deal with these people."
Thai officials showed Mondale a map marking the locations of 13 much larger refugee camps outside Bangkok. Those camps now shelter a total of 102,093 refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
"When I returned to America," the vice president pledged later in the day, "I will look into the possibility of speeding up the admission of refugees."
During talks with Thai Prime Minister Kriangsak Chomanan, Mondale expressed the U.S. government's intention to admit 15,000 to 20,000 yearly "for several years" from Thai camps.
That number would come within the total of about 25,000 refugees that the administration recently said it will admit each year from Asia.
Mondale also announced yesterday that the United States intends to allocate about $2 million for a "substantial assistance effort" aimed at helping refugees still left within Thailand.
Officials from the vice president's party and from the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok noted that many of the refugees already in Thailand stand little change of going to America or other countries, even with 20,000 figure.
But with substantial economic assistance to cover the costs, the officials suggested, the government in Bangkok might eventually agree to resettle many of the refugees permanently on farmland within Thailand.
Mondale's visit here "is going to bring high-level focus to this problem, and generate real interest in the refugees in Washington," a senior U.S. official said. "Today the vice president himself got into this. This experience has given him a level of detailed knowledge previously reserved for desk officers."
Mondale and his wife Joan visited a transit refugee center, where 640 Indochinese are completing final paperwork before flying to permanent homes abroad. Amid Thai and U.S. flags, several refugees also carried the yellow-and-red flag of the fallen Republic of South Vietnam.
At one point, the Mondales confronted a 24-year-old Vietnamese woman rocking her baby to sleep in string hammock. Huynh Xu Ha said she had fled Vietnam in a small fishing boat along with 18 other persons. She was pregnant when she left, she said, but she did it because she feared for her child's future under communism.
Her daughter was born here and she hopes to be permitted to enter the United States.
I'm Vin, 34, a refugee from Cambodia, told Mondale that his "wife and family were supposed to be put to death the day I escaped." Another Cambodian, Dura Narin, said, "All my friends were killed by the Khmer Rouge."
"The International community must not fail to cooperate on this issue," Mondale said later, adding that he would discuss the refugee problem in Australia.
Australia, after the United States and France, has accepted the most Indochinese refugees for permanent settlement.
Mondale left Bangkok in the afternoon and arrived last night in Jakarta, the third stop of his Asian tour, declaring that "the United States and Indonesia share a common interest in economic development to maintain stability in the region."
The U.S. party was greeted at the airport by Indonesia's vice president, Adam Malik. Mondale is scheduled to meet with President Suharto today.