In 1978, the Vietnamese Communists wanted to get rid of ethnic Chinese who could become a Trojan horse inside Vietnam as the war with China loomed large. They let the ethnic Chinese leave Vietnam “officially” if they pay taels of gold. In doing so, the Communists generated vast income of billions of US dollars, put pressure on neighbouring countries which then push pressure onto the West to accept refugees. It was a tactic to force the West to come to negotiations with them to give them aid to rebuild the country after the war. It also played on the humanitarian concerns of the United States and it is no secret that they wanted the US to normalise their relationship with them.
There were sinking of overloaded boats and ships. Besides big number of small wooden boats leaving Vietnam with 150 – 600 passengers, there were big ships departed:
- Southern Cross – 1,252 passengers – September 1978 – Indonesia (Bintan island)
Hai Hong – 2,504 passengers – November 1978 – Malaysia (Port Klang)
Huey Phong – 3,318 passengers – December 1978 – Hong Kong
Tung An – 2,300 passengers – January 1979 – Philippines (Manila Bay)
Skyluck – 2,651 passengers – February 1979 – Hong Kong – (left 600 passengers on Palawan island, Philippines)
1.1. Story of Southern Cross with 1,252 ethnic Chinese passengers.(The Indochina Refugee Crisis by Barry Wain on Foreign Affairs, Fall 1979 issue)
“He disclosed that the Southern Cross was guided to a wharf in Ho Chi Minh City by a Vietnamese pilot who boarded from a launch. The ship was guarded by troops at the berth, loaded with refugees being escorted by soldiers and guided by the pilot back out to sea while it flew the Vietnamese flag. It encountered no Vietnamese patrol boats, he said. Charles Freeman, Deputy U.S. Coordinator for Refugee Affairs, has testified before a congressional subcommittee that Vietnam set up a boat-building industry specifically to help refugees leave the country. Hanoi’s takings from the refugee traffic are unofficially estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Extract from page 150 of the above book:
“A rush of ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese to Southeast Asia began on September 19, 1978. anOn that date the UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, received word that the Southern Cross, a small, 950 ton freighter, had rescued 1,220 Vietnamese at sea and wished to put them ashore immediately in Malaysia.
The captain said he was short of water and food. The Malaysian navy delivered aid to the ship by boat and helicopter but, despite the entreaties of UNHCR, refused to let the Southern Cross discharge its human cargo, Singapore likewise refused. The captain took the matters into his own hands, sailed to an inhabited Indonesian island, and unloaded his passengers. He then radioed what he had done. The Indonesian government was furious that 1,200 Vietnamese had been dumped on its shores but was subdued by assurances from the United States, Australia, and Canada that they would accept the refugees for settlement. Indonesia grudgingly transported the refugees to a makeshift camp on Bintan Island, about 50 miles south of Singapore.
Only slowly did the real story of the Southern Cross come to light. The ship had left Singapore empty on August 25. The captain anchored the ship 30 miles off the Vietnamese coast where a Vietnamese pilot met it and guided it to shore. Over the next few days, Vietnamese soldiers loaded the passengers. Thus, the Southern Cross had not encountered the refugees at sea; it had docked at a Vietnamese port and passengers had been permitted onboard by officials of the government of Vietnam. Moreover, the passengers had paid Vietnamese officials about $2,000 each for exit permits and paid passage on the ship of $600 in gold for adults and $300 for children. The whole affair was arranged by a rich Chinese businessman in Singapore who made a large profit out of the venture, as did the government of Vietnam or its officials.”
From Southern Cross to Hai Hong. (Page 99 of the book “Legitimising Rejection: International Refugee Law in Southeast Asia” by Sara Ellen Davies)
“However, the same group that dispatched the Southern Cross were now making bigger plans. The plan was to purchase another vessel, the Hai Hong, and take the “people cargo” to Hong Kong. However, upon arrival, the Vietnamese government expected the Hai Hong to take the 1,200 paying passengers and a further 1,300 passengers for free. The Vietnamese officials insisted that if the Hai Hong did not comply, all crewmen and the Captain on board the Hai Hong would be arrested and the ship’s exit would be blocked. The Hai Hong organisers then complied with the Vietnamese authorities and the extra 1,300 were taken on board. Thus, there were some 2,450 passengers when the vessel set sail for refuge on the 24 October 1978. Unsurprisingly, the conditions on board were cramped and very unsafe. After a typhoon made the passage to Hong Kong impossible, the ship started to have engine trouble and with food and water running low the Captain decided to head for Indonesian waters. But upon arrival on a remote island at the top of the Indonesian archipelago, the Hai Hong did not radio Indonesian officials for assistance. Instead, it contacted the office of UNHCR in Malaysia.
This time around there was immediate suspicion about the Hai Hong’s story. Why had the Captain not immediately notified authorities when refugees had forcibly boarded the boat in international waters? How had 2,450 asylum seekers survived the typhoon in small boats to then swamp the Hai Hong? The Hai Hong Captain told Indonesian officials that the ship had been swamped a day earlier, 21 October, than what he told UNHCR. The Captain also claimed that the asylum seekers had forced the Hai Hong to head for Australia. None of these reported events added up. The dates that the Hai Hong gave did not match the distance it covered; there was also doubt that asylum seekers would have demanded for Australia when Thailand and Malaysia were the main destinations boat people requested for disembarkation when rescued by ships until then. The Indonesians, doubtful of the Hai Hong’s story and not wanting to further increase their asylum load, decided to expel the ship from its waters and escorted it back into international waters.”
2.1. The Hai Hong’s fare. (Download “SAVING LIVES: Canada and the Hai Hong by Dara Marcus”)
The Hai Hong was built in 1948 in Panama and purchased for scrap metal in 1978.
“Each ethnic Chinese refugee paid roughly. $3,200 US, or 16 bars of gold.”
2.2. Pictures of Hai Hong 21 Nov 1978, South China Sea -The attempted to transport 2,500 Vietnamese refugees to Malaysia, but the Malaysian authorities refused them and, after supplying them with food and drugs, set them back adrift. – Image by © Alain Dejean/Sygma/Corbis
2.3. Watch Hai Hong on youtube.
2.4. Read the post about Hai Hong. (The HAI HONG saga by The Ancient Mariner.)
“By the end of 1978, there were nearly 62,000 Vietnamese ‘boat people’ in camps throughout Southeast Asia. As the numbers grew, so too did local hostility. Adding to the tension was the fact that several of the boats arriving on the shores of countries in Southeast Asia were not small wooden fishing craft but steel-hulled freighters chartered by regional smuggling syndicates and carrying over 2,000 people at a time.
-TIME magazine, Dec. 04, 1978.
The 1500-tonnne m.v. Hai Hong was an old coastal vessel and a regular caller at Port Klang until one fateful night 30 years ago on November 9th 1978, when arriving at the southern pilot station, the ship’s master coolly radioed my Pilot Office for permission to proceed in on her own and anchor in the harbour.
It was fortunate then that one of the office staff remembered reading in the newspapers that the vessel had been sighted at sea a few days earlier off the east coast, filled to the brim with refugees. He promptly ordered the ship to anchor near Pulau Pintu Gedung at the southern approaches of the port. There was also no advice from her local agents, so the police, immigration, customs, harbour master and port health authorities were quickly alerted.
The ship remained outside port limits under heavy guard for a few months while the Malaysian government decided what to do with the 2500-odd Vietnamese refugees living in very cramped and deplorable conditions aboard the tiny vessel. Food, water and medicine often ran short of supply and diseases were rampant.
After initially ordering the vessel to go back to wherever she came from, it was only due to representations from UNHCR and after the United States’ Carter administration and a few other countries agreed to resettle them all that the refugees were finally brought ashore by the authorities. They were taken to a makeshift and fenced-in camp in Cheras, along the new north-south highway, which had been specially built for the purpose. From here, they were all then flown directly to the USA and elsewhere in small batches, but only after long drawn-out processes which took many months.
Meanwhile, the Hai Hong was brought in to anchor in North Shore at the entrance to the South Port where she remained for some time after the owners and crew had abandoned her. Tenders were out to auction and salvage her for scrap but there were no takers. The ship was subsequently towed and anchored at a site out of the way of shipping traffic, off Pulau Tonggok in Selat Lumut near the new bridge to Pulau Indah and leading to West Port and the Port Klang Free Zone. There she remained for a few years until one day she took in water and sank, very slowly, into her watery grave and disappeared completely from view.
I hear the site is now a favourite spot for weekend anglers in Port Klang.”
3.1. See pictures and detailed stories of Tung An, the ship carried 2,300 ethnic Chinese passengers that was anchored in Manila Bay for 7 months. (Photos on flickr by GorioB under titles 1978 0929 Tung An and 1978 1228 – From the Philippine Daily Express – December 28 & 29,1978 – Photo by Manny Silva).
On Dec. 27 1979, a rusty cargo ship sailed in to Manila Bay bringing a thousand Vietnamese refugees….They were not allowed to disembark from the ship (except those needing immediate medical attention)…and would call the Tung An their home for several more months…..
Gorio post this to honor the brave journey of these people to freedom….(Link to flickr by GorioB under titles 1978 1228 Tung An – From the Philippine Daily Express – December 28,1978 – Photo by Manny Silva).
“TURNED AWAY ELSEWHERE, VIET REFUGEES SAIL TO MANILA
Philippine Daily Express
An old, rusty freighter slipped into Manila Bay yesterday carrying unwanted human cargo.
Spilling onto the deck from its ill-ventilated holds are some of the 2,700 Vietnamese on board fleeing from their homeland to seek better life elsewhere.
The vessel, Tung An, was originally bound for Bangkok, but because of a Thai government decision that it could not take in political refugees, the boat sailed to Brunei.
Like lepers, the refugees were again turned away in that Bornean port. The Philippines, whose workers and civic action teams had been “No. 1” among Vietnamese villagers, then loomed as the next possible stop.
After several days at sea, the refugees entered Manila Bay yesterday.
The refugees would not be allowed to land because, according to the foreign ministry, the Fabella Center – where most of the more than 3,000 Viet refugees already accepted by the Philippine government are billeted – is already overcrowded.
However, for humanitarian reasons, the government will provide the refugees with food, water and medical supplies , the foreign ministry said.
The ministry said those needing immediate hospitalization will be taken to government hospitals and returned to the boat upon their recovery.
The foreign office said steps are being taken by the government, in cooperation with the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to look for the permanent settlement of the refugees.
Daily Express photographer Manny Silva joined a customs patrol last night to get near the quarantined boat. Here is his report:
More than 2,000 Vietnamese boat people lined up the railings atop the bridge of the “Tung An”, a freighter of Panamanian registry anchored on the explosive area of Manila bay opposite Isla Putting Bato. This is about 8 kilometers from the shore.
As we approached on customs patrol craft P58 at 7 p.m., we were met by the foul smell from the jampacked freighter. Men stripped to the waist could be seen on the bridge together with some women and children who stared at us.
At the forecastle railing is a large streamer saying, “We Wish to Get On Land” in big, red letters.
Two coast guard patrol ships were alongside the vessel.
The refugees looked weary, malnourished and exhausted. They showed eagerness to communicate with us but we were prevented by the Coast guard authorities from talking to them. Coast guard men in barring us explained that “we have no orders to allow you.”
In spite of the size of the freighter – about 4,000 tons – the refugees are packed like sardines. Clothes lines crisscross along the deck.
Some of the women refugees were observed lowering tin cans tied to a string to fetch water from the sea.
After encircling the refugee boat twice, Capt. Vicente Floresa then manning the NCP patrol boat, steered back to the headquarters of the customs patrol craft and reported to Col. Franklin Littua, NCP Commander.”
“RP SENDS FOOD TO VIET REFUGEES
Philippine Daily Express
Group not allowed to land, but 5 were taken to hospital.
The Philippine government started yesterday giving food and medicines to some 2,700 Vietnamese refugees who arrived on a freighter last Wednesday as it reiterated its policy not to allow the refugees to land.
The government joined the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees in appealing to 19 foreign government to help in resettling the refugees, many of whom are infants and elderly people.
The refugees came on the Tung An, now anchored off Manila Bay breakwater.
Expressing the government’s concern over the plight of the refugees, Deputy Foreign Minister Jose D. Ingles said: “We are maintaining our present policy of not allowing any of the refugees on board the vessel to go ashore, but we shall continue to provide them with their immediate needs.”
In a meeting with the ambassadors of the 19 countries to Manila, Ingles expressed the government’s hope to obtain special quotas from the traditional resettlement countries and also from countries which have accepted only a few or no refugees at all.
Ingles stressed the urgent need for evacuating right away those refugees with close relatives in other countries, if possible on chartered planes.
He told the ambassadors that the Fabella Center, which now houses more than 3,000 refugees, cannot accept any more refugees “without creating a condition of social chaos due to overcrowding”.
Ingles added that the Philippine government has done all it could within its limited means to help refugees, having accepted nearly 4,500 of them from 1975 to 1978. Of that total, 2,000 are still awaiting resettlement, he said.
Represented in the meeting with Ingles were Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Brazil, Canada, France, West Germany, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States.
Earlier, Ingles met with the representative of the Social Service Commission, the ministries of defense and health to seek ways of alleviating the conditions at the Tung An.
An operations center was set up to coordinate government assistance, and the following measures were agreed upon:
- Provision of food and other immediate necessities.
- Medical treatment for the seriously ill.
- Vessels to be stationed near the Tung An for 24 hours for such necessities as may be required by the refugees, especially by those with ailments not requiring hospitalization.
In a report, the United Press International said:
Five critically ill Vietnamese refugees have been brought ashore from a rusty cargo vessel carrying more than 2,700 “boat people”, a spokesman said Thursday.
Au Hong Tai, a 29-year-old accountant from Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) who acts as spokesman for the refugees, said the five Vietnamese were undergoing treatment at a Manila hospital.
Among them, he said, was a woman who gave birth yesterday.
Tai said conditions aboard the motor vessel Panamanian-registered Tung An had become intolerable.
“The place is a mess, we can’t stand it any more, a lot of people will die,” Tai said.
Tai said a representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees went aboard the vessel anchored at Manila Bay about a mile away from the shore Wednesday evening.
He said the representative gave them assurances that the Tung An, the owners of which are in Hongkong, would not be driven away.
About 200 refugees drowned off Vietnam in a struggle to board the freighter Tung An which arrived in Manila Wednesday carrying 2,700 other refugees, relief sources said yesterday.
The sources said the ship’s crew reported the drowning incident to Philippine officials who refused the Vietnamese “boat people” permission to land, saying the Philippines’ own refugee camp already was overcrowded.
Tung An, which picked up the refugees at sea earlier this month headed for Manila after authorities in Brunei earlier also refused to allow the refugees to land there.
A team of relief workers which brought fresh provisions aboard the ship Wednesday said the refugees told them that on their way to Manila, Tung An picked up two more boatloads of refugees at sea.
“They said one of the boats they met was packed with refugees and was sinking and they had to take the people aboard,” the sources said.
Relief workers reported that none of the refugees appeared to be seriously ill, although some were suffering from colds.
“They appear to be well-organized,” one relief official said. “They have their own kitchen brigades who take turns in cooking food aboard the vessel and supervise the rationing. The refugees also eat by turns.”
The official said that since the Hongkong-owned ship has meager cooking facilities “the stove burns 24 hours a day so that all the people aboard can be fed.” Mostly, the refugees eat porridge.”
These article describes the life of the refugees 6 months after sailing into Manila Bay and not being allowed to go on land…(Link to flickr by GorioB under title 1979 0623 Tung An – from the Times Journal– June 23, 1979).
“TUNG AN REFUGEES: A LIFE OF BOREDOM
Times Journal – June 23, 1979.
Six months after becoming unwanted guests of the Philippine government, 950 Vietnamese refugees aboard the freighter Tung An have settled into a life of boredom and waiting.
A Philippine navy vessel makes its twice-daily visit to bring food to the hulking black freighter. It’s a typical day.
Several “boat people” lounge around a radio. Here and there a card game is underway. Women write or read letters. Hair is being shampooed, babies bathed, fingernails manicured. Boys fly a kite.
Leaning on rails, dozen simply stare toward the sea.
“We are hungry,” a refugee shouts to a photographer, but there are few outward signs of it. Women are cooking rice gruel. Boys dive into the bay’s dirty water, scrape shellfish from the freighter’s hull and return to the deck to sort their treasures, separating barnacles from mussels. Two or three hours of diving yield four liters of mussels.
Life has been this way for the Tung An “boat people” since Dec. 27, when the Hong Kong based freighter chugged into the bay three days after it was refused refugee at Brunei.
There are some signs of change. A flat-bottomed navy boat is moored alongside, giving the refugees room to spread out, and there are fewer people – the Tung An carried 2,318 passengers when it arrived. Multi-colored tarpaulins supplied by the navy provide makeshift shelter from the tropical sun and the almost-daily rains that foreshadow the oncoming monsoon season.
The refugees and the Philippine marines assigned to guard them have painted graffiti on the hull. Over a painted “Dec. 26, 1978,” the Tung An’s arrival date, there is a small heart, pierced by an arrow.
Hanging over the rails are ropes with plastic bags, some empty, some with rice. Many of the “boat people” have set aside private areas, where they store extra food and personal items. Most have tin cans on strings to bring aboard water for bathing.
In January, Filipino public health officials worried that hygiene aboard the ship was so bad that epidemics could result. Disinfectant sprays and treated water were provided, and a public health doctor said Wednesday that the danger has passed.
“There is a big improvement compared with the first few months,” said Dr. Antonio Amparo. “Many were suffering from gastro-intestinal disorders. But they now have a lot more room, and there’s not going to be any serious disease problem.”
Many of the refugees have open sores on their arms and legs, which Amparo said are boils caused by lack of personal hygiene. A woman whose family identified her as Mang Ng sobs in pain with a swollen right arm which she says she broke in a ship-board accident. Her family says there is no money for medical assistance, but Philippine government officials say they were not told about the injury and will treat her without charge, as they have done for hundred of others.
President Marcos’ government at first took a hard line with the Tung An, refusing to bring any of the refugees ashore except to take resettlement flights out of the country or for medical treatment. The captain and crew face charges of violating immigration ports laws and are ready to stand trial.
The restrictions on the refugees have eased, although there has been no official announcement.
More than 600 of the Tung An passengers have gone on to new homes in other countries. About 575 are at a suburban military camp, undergoing final processing for resettlement. The ones still on the ship are those who so far have been unable to prove links with other countries.”
4.1. Video about Huey Fong with over 3,000 ethnic Chinese passengers delayed to disembark its passengers for 1 month. (David Tran, the man who created the world-famous sriracha hot chilli sause was aboard this Taiwanese freighter that was registered in Panama. The video was a brief introduction of David Tran and his sriracha sauce which also includes historical filming footage of the ship.)
“A rusting freighter brought Vietnam refugees to Hong Kong just before Christmas Eve and a weighty problem to the Government of how to handle this human cargo. The 4,000-ton Huey Fong was intercepted by Marine Police and Royal Navy patrol boats off Po Toi Island in international waters. The Government had indicated that it would not allow the refugees to land here. Firm on its first-port-of-call principle, the Government confined the refugees to the freighter and kept a tight vigil on them. As investigations deepened, the Government uncovered discrepancies in the master’s log book which supported suspicions that international syndicates had arranged for a number of ageing freighters to go to the waters of Vietnam to pick up the thousands of ethnic Chinese who had paid their way out of the country. These syndicates were reported to have charged each refugee some $7,000 or 10 taels of gold. The way in which the Huey Fong had picked up the refugees – and the conflicting reports given by the refugees – gave weight to these suspicions. There were mixed reactions among local people on whether Hong Kong should accept the refugees. Those in favor said we should do it on humanitarian grounds.
Collection Chinese Immigrants from Vietnam to Hong Kong.
Ownership/Donor Kiu Chan.
Date December, 1978”
5.1. Story of Skyluck which carried 2,700 ethnic Chinese passengers and moored off Hong Kong for 4 1/2 months. (Wikipedia)
“Most refugees had all paid for passage in gold leaf or bars, in amounts that often represented life savings. Some signed over property to local government such as land, house, boat, and possessions in exchange for passage.”
“In the early hours of Wednesday 7 February 1979, Skyluck arrived in the then-British colony of Hong Kong unannounced. Hong Kong police did not detect the ship while it entered the territorial water and until it anchored in the middle of Victoria Harbour. The ship was surrounded by police launches and boarded in the morning hours, engine parts were removed to prevent escape.
Upon interrogation, the Chinese (Taiwanese) captain claimed, as had been done in previous cases, that on his way from Singapore, the freighter came across several fishing boats in danger of sinking in the high seas, and had decided to rescue the refugees.
In fact, the refugees boats were organized by Vietnamese local boss (Bến Tre Province) to allow ethnic Chinese to leave the country as the relations between China and Vietnam rapidly deteriorated and war was imminent. Most refugees had all paid for passage in gold leaf or bars, in amounts that often represented life savings. Some signed over property to local government such as land, house, boat, and possessions in exchange for passage. A few sneaked on-board without any payment at all. Initially, a roster of 900 refugees were to be picked up by the freighter. As the news leaked, thousands swarmed the boat and the refugee count swelled to more than 3200. The freighter had to pull anchor and ran as the freighter was dangerously overloaded, left behind a fleet of small fishing boats trailing. Many late arrivals could not get on-board and were left behind.
The gold payment, along with weapons (M16) to guard the gold were delivered to the Captain by the local boss. The gold was never found on-board because it was transferred to another freighter during a rendezvous in mid-sea.
The refugees were not allowed to land, instead, the freighter was towed to south coast of Lamma Island, several hundred yards off-shore. Refugees were confined to the ship for more than four months (until the freighter was sunk deliberately by refugees) while the Hong Kong government attempted to verify the refugee status of the passengers, and decide whether to allow them into the UNHCR-run refugee camps in the colony.”
Vietnam denies the refugee racketeering. (The Indochina Refugee Crisis by Barry Wain on Foreign Affairs, Fall 1979 issue.)
“The fourth category are the political refugees from Vietnam. In this group the ethnic Vietnamese who have found their own way out despite Hanoi’s tight controls deserve the same kind of sympathy as the refugees of 1975 whom the United States accepted in large numbers. And while Hanoi may be condemned for its New Economic Zone policies and the brutality involved in moving potential dissidents and urban dwellers to harsh rural lives (sometimes to their deaths), a degree of painful adjustment was inevitable as Hanoi sought to bring into line with the austere north what had become, in the years of American occupation of the south, a corrupted consumer society. There is a strong measure of self-justification and exaggeration in Hanoi’s repeated claim that it inherited, in what had been South Vietnam, three million unemployed, several hundred thousand prostitutes and drug addicts, thousands of gangsters and criminals, one million people with tuberculosis, several hundred thousand with venereal disease and four million illiterates. But there is a measure of truth in the overall claim made by one Vietnamese publication: “One had to rebuild not only a country that had been ruined materially, but also a society that had been completely perverted and turned upside down.”
“But the vast majority leaving recently have a different motivation. With a few exceptions, Sino-Vietnamese and other minorities and dissidents tell of hardship and deprivation, of being advised to leave, of being forced out when they hesitate, or having their property confiscated and their possessions sold. The practice varies from time to time and in different parts of the country. Ethnic Vietnamese often risk severe punishment if caught trying to escape. But so open and approved is the departure of Hoa that ethnic Vietnamese planning to leave often acquire false documents bearing fictitious Chinese names and learn to count in Cantonese.
Only the well-off can afford to go. A passage usually costs the gold equivalent of between $2,000 and $3,000, half price for children. The refugees hand over the gold pieces directly to Public Security Bureau officials, or to authorized collecting agents. A large slice of each fare, amounting to a departure tax, goes to the government. Middlemen and boat owners also get a share.”
“Against such charges, Hanoi’s attempt to blame the United States and especially China, as well as the colonial past, for the exodus is, to put it mildly, unconvincing. China’s protests about the March 1978 decree against commercial middlemen may have been accompanied by a degree of encouragement to the Hoa to leave that played some part in the overland refugee flow to China. But the latest Hanoi position, contained in its Those Who Leave pamphlet, that in the case of the boat people there is indeed an organized departure service from the country but that it is the work of the “counter-revolutionary” elements established in Vietnam by the Americans, is absurd and self-convicting. Does anyone seriously believe that in a totalitarian state 50,000 people a month can be organized, ticketed, transported to departure points and allocated boats-a major logistical exercise-without the government’s knowledge? Does anyone seriously accept that people, given a reasonable choice, opt at the rate of 600,000 a year to risk their lives in vessels that have been described as “floating coffins”?”
The Geneva conference in July 1979 demanding Vietnam to stop the flow of ethnic Chinese and facilitate the Orderly Departure Program. (Page 196 of the book “Remapping Asian American History” by Sucheng Cha).
“The countries of first asylum were appalled. One question that everyone asked was, Should people who could afford such expensive passage and who left in such an organized manner under the aegis of the Vietnamese governmentbe considered refugees? To almost everyone, the answer was no. Even Indonesia, which had not turned away small boats up to this point, declared it would take no more. The issue then became what to do with the ones who had already arrived. Everyone agreed that something had to be done if first asylum was to be preserved. The solution was a conference convened by UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim in Geneva on July 17-19, 1979.
Waldheim invited seventy-one nations to attend; sixty-five accepted the invitation. The participants agreed on a three-prong solution. First, Vietnam would place a temporary moratorium on “illegal” departures and would facilitate legal departures through the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) established two months earlier under a Memorandum of Understanding between Vietnam and UNHCR. The United States announced that three categories of people could enter the United States under the ODP: close family members of people in the United States, former employees of U.S. government agencies, and other individuals “closely identified” with the U.S. presence in Vietnam before 1975. Second, the countries of first asylum would stop turning people away and continue to give them temporary asylum. Third, the countries of second asylum (also confusingly known as resettlement countries or third countries) would increase their intake. Dozens of countries, including those that agreed to take just a few dozens or a few hundred, together pledged more than 260,000 resettlement spaces. (At that time, there were 372,000 refuge seekers in first-asylum camps, of whom 202,000 were boat people.) Densely populated Japan, which were extremely reluctant to take in any refuge seekers at all, promised to pay half of UNHCR’s expenses in this endeavor. Indonesia and Malaysia each donated land, on Galang Island and Baatan peninsula, respectively, to build regional refugee processing centers to relieve the demographic pressure on Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong. A third regional processing center was set up in Phanat Nikhom, Thailand, adjacent to an existing UNHCR holding center. Refugees approved for resettlement would be given English lessons and”cultural orientation” in the processing center before departing for their new homes. There was, however, no discussion about the fate of the more than 169,000 land people in UNHCR-sponsored camps in Thailand or the several hundred thousand Cambodians who were not in UNHCR camps. This neglect led Thailand to take its own measures with regard to Laotian and Cambodian refugees in the coming years.
The Geneva Conference brought immediate results. On August 9, Hanoi announced that its officials had already arrested 4,000 people involved in organizing the departure of refugees and that some of them might be executed. Moreover, the Vietnamese government would provide UNHCR and resettlement countries”all necessary facilities” to process applicants via ODP. In the three months following the conference, not only did the total number of boat arrivals decline, but the boat didn’t contain any Chinese. These developments gave ample proof that the Vietnamese government did indeed have control over the ethnic Chinese outflow. However, critics pointed out that what the conference participants did was to enter into”an unwitting collaboration to repress and contain rather than rescue the victims of tyranny”. Ironically, by asking Vietnam to stop the outflow, the participants, including UNHCR itself, violated the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of movement to individuals, including the right to leave the countries in which they live.”
Read “The Will of Heaven” (Hutton 1980) by Nguyễn Ngọc Ngạn – a memoir co-written in English with E.E. Richey. (Link to amazon.com book)
Nguyễn Ngọc Ngạn (1946) is a novelist and author of short stories and one memoir.
He was born in Sơn Tây, northern Vietnam, went to Saigon in 1954 when the North was divided to be occupied by Communists, taught literature after graduating from the University of Saigon, before being drafted into the South Vietnamese Army.
After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, he was imprisoned by the Communists for three years, then sent with his family to perform hard labor in a “New Economic Zone.”
In 1979, he and his family escaped Vietnam by boat after pretending that he was Chinese and was loaned 20 gold taels to pay the Communists for the “legal” journey. His boat overloaded with over three hundred ethnic Chinese passengers reached Malaysia but his wife and four-year-old son died when the boat capsized within sight of shore, drowning 161 people altogether. He was given asylum in Canada that same year, eventually settling in Toronto.
While still in a Malaysian refugee camp, he wrote his first novel, Những Người Đàn Bà Còn Ở Lại [The Women Left Behind], but it wasn’t published until eight years later. His first published work, “The Will of Heaven” (Hutton 1980), was a memoir co-written in English with E.E. Richey. He has since published 25 novels and collections of short stories in Vietnamese, and is by far the most popular author in the overseas Vietnamese community. He is also famous as a host of a series of music-variety videos, “Paris by Night,” most often filmed in Las Vegas.