SAIGON (1954-1960)/ 10. Case Study: Issue faced by the COMIGAL during the Resettlement Programmes.

With such an unprecedented influx of population, the effort to resettle the Northern refugees was a vast challenge for the COMIGAL and their foreign aids. In order to examine the population influx and the issues of the resettlement in depth, it is important to understand the actual issues and difficulties encountered by these stakeholders. A range of documents are selected for this analysis, including memorandums, meeting minutes and publications.

Document 1: Luong, Bui-Vang. The Commissioner for Refugees’ answer to the representatives of Refugees of different camps on October 12, 1955. COMICAL. 1955.

Cover of he Commissioner for Refugees’ answer to the representatives of Refugees of different camps on October 12, 1955.
Cover of The Commissioner for Refugees’ answer to the representatives of Refugees of different camps on October 12, 1955. Image Source: See Reference 1.

In this draft of a reply letter to the refugees’ representatives, Mr. Bui Vang Luong, the Commissioner, answered inquiries raised by representatives from My-tho and Gia-Dinh, the two provinces in the suburban Saigon. These inquiries presented a wide range of issues that is closely related to the refugees’ living condition in the camps, such as water supplies, daily allowances from USOM, the timetable for construction of various public buildings, such as hospitals and public schools. In the drafted response, Luong’s response to various issues have been the same; those issues were not under his control, that he had to make inquiries before answering the representatives. This reveals the COMIGAL’s role as merely a medium between foreign support and refugees. Without substantial power and decision-making capacity, COMIGAL could seldom address the refugees’ need directly and efficiently.

Document 2: Mode, Walter W., Wickert, Frederic R., Smuckler, Ralph. Recommendation Concerning Proposed Field Organisation of the Commissariat for Refugees. Michigan State University Team, USOM. 1955.

Proposed Orgranisation Structure of the COMIGAL by the MSU Team.
Proposed Orgranisation Structure of the COMIGAL by the MSU Team. Image Source: See Reference 2.

After the COMIGAL was established, they faced the issue of inexperience and ill preparation in the face of the population influx. The MSU team was requested by the RVN Commissariat for Refugees to examine the existing structure of the organisation, and provide suggestions to optimise the COMIGAL’s performance in terms of settling the huge amount of refugees. The team first underwent a series of filed study, including visits to the resettlement camps established, interviews with local officers, and informal conversations with refugees. A few issues were highlighted and addressed  by the US advisors, with the following suggestions:

  1. Focus on Field Works and the Establishment of Field Offices in different provinces: the MSU team observed that field works, which could help COMIGAL coordinate and examine the issues related to the refugees, were lacking in their organisation. Even if there were fieldworks, officers were directly commissioned from the headquarters. The MSU team proposed that fieldwork offices should be set up in each provinces in order to gain an in-depth impression of the issues faced by refugees.
  1. Establish clear workflow and documentation to regulate the work: The MSU team also found out that the work by COMIGAL lacked proper record and documentation techniques. In the report, they urged COMIGAL to established proper document formats (including questionnaire forms, forms for statistics), so that the issues can be studied in a systematic way for future references.

After examining the first-hand document produced at that time, the challenges faced by the COMIGAL and their advisors are more clearly shown. These documents certainly shows the limits of the works COMIGALs and other aid programmes had. They also showed the limitation of its effect, that quite a number of the refugee population were not benefitted by this programme, which may have lead to the continuation of the urban population growth.


References:

  1. Luong, Bui-Vang. The Commissioner for Refugees’ answer to the representatives of Refugees of different camps on October 12, 1955. COMICAL. 1955.
  2. Mode, Walter W., Wickert, Frederic R., Smuckler, Ralph. Recommendation Concerning Proposed Field Organisation of the Commissariat for Refugees. Michigan State University Team, USOM. 1955.

Digital copies retrieved from the Michigan State University Vietnam Group Archive.

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