SAIGON (1954-1960)/ 3. Protagonists: Vietnamese Organization (COMIGAL) and the President
President Ngo Dinh Diem
Ngo Dinh Diem was appointed as the Prime Minister of the State of Vietnam by Head of State Bao Dai in 1954, and established the Republic of Vietnam after a fraud referendum which deposed Bao Dai (Schulziger, 1999). He became the president of the Republic.
Following the July 1954 Geneva Accords, combatants and civilians were allowed to cross the “provisional military demarcation line” at the seventeenth parallel within a three-hundred-day period (Elkins, 2016). Diem strongly advocated the immigration of Northern refugees due to several reasons. Firstly, he needed more catholic population as political supporters. At that time, many catholics, who could otherwise be strong supporters of the Catholic Diem government, “remained north of the seventeenth parallel”. The northern transplant would increase the Catholic population to nearly 10 percent. Secondly, the exodus would strengthen Diem’s anti-Communist constituency, as many immigrants chose to move because of the fear of religious persectution. A further reason, according to Elkins (2016), was that:
… the effective management of the refugee situation would lend legitimacy to the southern government, which was simultaneously involved in efforts to suppress rival political factions.
The Commissariat of Refugees (COMIGAL)
The Commissariat of Refugees (COMIGAL) was established by Diem for the “evacuation and transportation of the refugees from the North”. According to Hansen (2016), the COMIGAL is responsible for:
- Reception of immigrants: to provide initial reception, registration and subsidisation
- Resettlement of immigrants: administration of camps or centres where most immigrants resided, and the implementation of development projects for immigrants’ economic self-sufficiency and integration to the Southern community
At the reception phase, COMIGAL worked with several voluntary organisations to provide “emergency relief, including medical treatment, clothing and food parcels”, to immigrants who arrived by aircraft or by ship. Financial subsidy were also given to immigrants on arrival, and an extra grant were given to those who were willing to transfer to designated resettlement areas. The extra grant acted as an incentive for them to stay away from overcrowded urban area and to support the development of resettlement areas.
Following the reception phase, COMIGAL was responsible for selecting sites for settlement, though in many cases the refugees themselves had already done it. In case these self-selected camps were proven economically unsustainable, COMIGAL would assess the future sustainability and give recommendation on whether to continue or close the settlement. Relocation of camp population to better sites would also occur if necessary. In cooperation with the residents’ leader (most of the time the priests), officials of the COMIGAL Planning Office would choose the prevalent economic activity for the camp and design a project for the activity. The implementation of the project proposals would be shared between external funding agencies, COMIGAL and the residents themselves.
The resettlement projects had not been successfully executed due to several problems. According to the report of COMIGAL in 1955, three main problems were identified: financial difficulties, lack of technical personnel and lack of equipment. Financial difficulties occur when “excessive delays required for obligation of funds under normal administrative procedures” happened to the transfer of foreign aid (the largest source of funding). Both foreign and Vietnamese technicians were lacking in supporting different needs, including health, public works, and agriculture. Equipment such as agricultural implements, vehicles and medical equipment were also lacking in the camps. Hansen (2008) had also concluded that the poor financial control and disbursement of funds, as well as the lack of staff members of the COMIGAL working in the remote rural areas where the camps lay (instead of Saigon) were fatal causes to the failure of the projects. The Commission was finally abolished at the end of 1957, which was the expected time when most of the resettlement camps were merged into the local population. The main functions of the Commission were transferred to the new Land Reform Commission.
- Elkind, Jessica. “The Virgin Mary is Going South: Refugee Resettlement in South Vietnam.” Aid Under Fire: Nation Building and the Vietnam War. University Press of Kentucky, 2016, pp. 28-32.
- Hansen, Peter. The Virgin Heads South: Northern Catholic Refugees in South Vietnam, 1954-64. Thesis. University of Divinity, 2008, pp. 163-172. Web. 4 Dec. 2016.
- Schulziger, Robert D. A Time for War: The United States and Vietnam, 1941-1975. Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 77-82.