Over the course of 30 years, the Vietnam War not only contributed towards the intensity of the Cold War but also directly resulted in mass displacement and escalating poverty as Vietnamese refugees fled the region. The humanitarian emergency that the debilitating conflict created also impacted neighboring nations like Laos and Cambodia.
In an effort to contain Communism in then Indo-China, the U.S. began to progressively involve itself in the growing hostility between the North and the South. The U.S. aspired to salvage Ngo Din Diem’s regime in the South despite his unpopularity among the working class and the priests so that it could control the excesses of Ho Chi Minh’s communist guerilla group, the Viet Cong.
After the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed, the U.S. became fully embroiled in the war. Record amounts were spent on military support to Vietnam, including chemical weaponry such as weedkillers, napalm and Agent Orange. The guerilla warfare tactics, coupled with public outrage in the U.S. after atrocities during the My-Lai massacre brought an end to the war after the Fall of Saigon.
The Vietnam War is reminiscent of yet another situation we see today with the refugee crisis, brought about by persecution and human rights violations.
8 Facts of Vietnamese Refugees and the Vietnam War
- A total of three million people from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam fled over the span of two decades, out of which 800,000 Vietnamese fled by boat according to the UNHCR.
- Vietnamese refugees who fled were later called the ‘Boat people of Vietnam’. Not unlike the scene of the mass exodus in Europe, the defectors used ramshackle fishing boats not devised to be used in the open sea. Owing to the sheer numbers who were trying to flee, the boats were often overcrowded.
- The primary causes of death were drowning at sea as a result of being smuggled. The refugees were attacked by pirates and were trafficked and sold into slavery and prostitution.
- Two hundred thousand Cambodians and Vietnamese displaced by the war were allowed to enter the U.S. on a ‘parole’ status under the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act passed in 1975. An aggregate of 450 million dollars was spent on this initiative, with over a million refugees finding asylum in the United States.
- Despite a 1979 U.N. conference to regulate the number of refugees residing in refugee camps in Southeast Asia, the United Nations finally resolved to stretch the limits of regular migration to help Vietnamese refugees seek asylum successfully.
- Owing to the success that Vietnam has had in achieving the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and achieving food security, the food poverty rate, fortunately, plummeted by two-thirds between the years 1993 and 2008. Vietnam is now also a large exporter of rice.
- By 2010, nearly 1.5 million overseas Vietnamese, now referred to as Viet Kieu, were resettled in the US. These individuals are beginning to lead businesses. The remittances they are sending back home are worth $13.2 billion, thus increasing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). This development is a 900% increase from the year 2000 according to the World Bank.
- Vietnam’s growing technology sector is symbolic of its recovery. Education and living standards have drastically improved. Owing to the investment capacity of Vietnam, Silicon Valley is establishing 500 Startups in the country.
In an effort to halt the spread of communism, there was a tremendous cost to human life. Only time will reveal the full extent of U.S. and U.N. humanitarian assistance in aiding Vietnamese refugees.
– Shivani Ekkanath