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Former Vietnamese Refugees Reach Out to Fleeing Syrians

As Syria’s civil war worsens, thousands of Syrians are compelled to abandon their lives and relocate to other countries. Their journeys often include the daunting task of crossing oceans in small vessels that are barely sea-worthy. However, safety does not always await them on the other side.

The mass exodus from Syria has caused no small amount of strife among political leaders as they discuss how to accommodate so many refugees.

Working citizens eye the situation warily, anticipating the incoming Syrians as a threat to their livelihoods. Settling in can be very difficult for refugees when their new community is unwelcoming. Such situations can result in refugees living in squalor and becoming a burden to their new country.

The U.S. agreed to take in 10,000 Syrians in the upcoming year, but the Vietnamese American population has decided that more can be done to ensure the newcomers receive a hospitable welcome. After all, only a few short decades separate the Vietnamese from their own experience as refugees.

When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, roughly 125,000 Vietnamese refugees entered the U.S. by boat, much like the Syrians. If they were lucky, they found housing and a source of income. The unlucky spent years in refugee camps or searched the country for separated loved ones.

Now, as they see their own history playing out before their eyes, Vietnamese Americans strive to generate compassion for the fleeing Syrians.

In California, home to the largest population of former Vietnamese refugees, individuals have organized a 4-mile walk-a-thon to raise money for refugee accommodation. A Twitter campaign has also been established to allow U.S. citizens to voice their support for the Syrian refugees.

Other ways that U.S. citizens can assist in the accommodation and acculturalization of refugees are by volunteering at local resettlement agencies, donating funds and household items, becoming an English tutor and spreading the word about refugee aid.

“I want to see what we can do to help the Syrians because that is us,” says Tom Q. Nguyen, who lost his mother and sister when his family fled Vietnam in the 80’s.

Nguyen and fellow campaigners hope that their efforts will inspire others to take part as well. Perhaps the actions of these former Vietnamese refugees mark a new outlook on refugee accommodation.

According to the UNHCR’s 2015 report, nearly 60 million forcibly displaced persons exist in the world today. Half of these are victims of the turmoil in Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia, and all are in need of a new home.

Sarah Prellwitz

Sources: Migration Policy 1, Migration Policy 2, NY Daily News, Rescue
Photo: Google Image