A U.N.-sponsored conference seeking solutions to the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Southeast Asia ended today with no major breakthroughs on the part of the 34 nations attending.
Although pledges of sharply increased funding and offers of asylum are desperately needed to accommodate the flow from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, almost all the representatives at the two-day session insisted on consulting with their governments before pledging.
A delegate from Malaysia, which is seeking to cope with 40,000 Vietnamese still in refugee camps, surveyed the recent efforts of the United States and other countries and declared: "The pledges and commitments are still grossly inadequate."
While traditional Western donors made pledges of $12 million so the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees can continue operating through February, no other contributors stepped forward.
Participants were particularly disappointed that South American and Southeast Asian countries - other than Malaysia and Thailand, both already major recipent countries of refugees - were not willing even to offer asylum pending permanent resettlement.
Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (N-N.Y.), a member of the U.S. delegation, warned that Congress "may encounter an adverse public reaction to refugee programs and expenditures unless - and emphasize unless - we can show that the world community is assuming a greater share of these burdens."
The United States had announced before the meeting that it was doubling, to $50,000, the number of Indochinese allowed to enter by the end of April 1979. This would bring the number of Indochinese refugees admitted to 215,000.
Under Secretary of State David Newsom, the head of the U.S. delegation, voiced Holtzman's position more diplomatically, saying "the international community and not just a few nations must respond with greatly increased offers of permanent resettlement."
Despite the lack of such pledges, U.N. High Commissioner Poul Harling expressed optimism that pledges will come in the weeks ahead.
Following the consciousness-raising exercise here, an extensive round of U.S. and U.N. efforts is expected, perhaps including economic incentives, to increase the efforts by European countries and Japan.
There are already enough offers of asylum to take care of the current "boat people" from Vietnam but they keep growing in number and there are additionally more than 130,000 refugees in Thailand from Laos and Cambodia, along with 150,000 Cambodians who have sought at lease temporary safety in Vietnam.
The Vietnamese, who sent a delegation, argued that refugees are leaving due to economic problems caused by the war and natural disasters and that to stem the flow, Vietnam should be given economic aid. Reps. Hamilton Fish (R-N.Y.), Billy Lee Evans (D-Ga.) and Holtzman met informally with the Vietnamese about ways to regulate the flow and insure safer ways to leave the country than the flimsy boats that have led to refugee deaths.
While current U.S. law forbids government aid to Vietnam, Fish noted that private American investment "is going to be a possible route" in solving the underlying cause of at least some of the exodus from Vietnam by boat.
Malaysian Delegate Tan Sri Ghazali, who is minister for home affairs, proposed that refugees be assembled at a Pacific island such as Guam to wait selection and permanent resettlement. He said some site other than the U.s. administered island might be suitable but he offered no other alternative.
Newsom did not respond directly but did say the United States would study "the possibility of establishing additional temporary facilities" and considering "approaches which would humanely regulate the flow of people."