Aliens arriving by boat may be political refugees in desperate straits and fleeing from war, or may be the human cargo of sophisticated smuggling operations, people who have paid large sums of money, pushed by the lack of opportunity at home and pulled by unrealistic expectations. Arriving in unscheduled boats means they avoid the conventional immigration procedures. Their favoured destinations are countries with liberal asylum laws.
Over the period 1975 to 1992, more than 1.6 million Vietnamese fled their homeland. No one knows how many were drowned at sea or slaughtered by pirates. The mass exodus has slowed to a trickle in 1992, with only 12 arriving in Hong Kong, 18 in Indonesia, nine in Thailand, one in Malaysia, and none at all in Singapore, Macau or the Philippines. In 1989, the number of arrivals reported by Southeast Asian countries was 70,000, in 1990 it was 32,000, and in 1991 it was 21,900.
Illegal Chinese aliens have been arriving to the USA by the boatload for several years -- about 100,000 between 1987 and 1991. Chinese applicants for refugee status have quadrupled since 1990 and many, perhaps most, are without merit. Asylum seeker often try to invoke a provision mandating "enhanced consideration" for people who have been persecuted or fear persecution under China's one-child-per-family policy. In 1993, the backlog of asylum cases was more than 300,000, often left pending for years while applicant are allowed to work legally. A 1992 study estimates 850,000 boat people settled in the US as a result of the Vietnamese diaspora alone.