Many remember the Vietnam War as one of the most appalling in American history, and, as one can image, a harrowing chapter for Vietnam. The 1975 reunification of Vietnam established a brutally oppressive regime, striking fear into the hearts of those who lived in Vietnam. The result was a mass exodus of refugees now known as Boat People. Here are ten facts about Vietnamese Boat People who fled in search of better futures.

10 Facts About Vietnamese Boat People

  1. As the name implies, refugees relied on small boats. Under the new regime of the Republic of Vietnam, leaving the country was initially illegal. While this would change with time and the intervention of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), escaping occurred illegally by sea. Many of those who left were families of farmers, fishermen, and people with other rural jobs who had access to boats that were well suited for sailing near shore but were not designed for travel on the open sea. The only option for leaving was by cramming families into small boats.
  2. Diverse communities were at risk. The war devastated the country’s infrastructure. While relief eventually came, it did not reach everyone. To make matters worse, in 1979 the Sino-Vietnamese War left those with Chinese heritage fearing for their lives. As there was already a precedent of executions and re-location to labor camps, people also fled the northern areas of Vietnam, at one point accounting for 70 percent of refugees.
  3. Fleeing Vietnam was dangerous. Partly because a large number of refugees from other countries were in the Indochinese area at the time, it is difficult to estimate exactly how many people fled Vietnam. However, experts estimate up to 1.5 million refugees escaped but a high estimate of 10 percent died from drowning, piracy, dehydration, or otherwise never made landfall.
  4. The crisis went unrecognized until refugee numbers grew. An estimated 62,000 Vietnamese Boat People sought refuge throughout Southeast Asia by 1978. This number rose to 350,000 by mid-1979, with another 200,000 having moved to permanent residence in other countries. At first, countries close to Vietnam accepted refugees and provided asylum, however many of those countries’ policies changed.
  5. Refugees often passed through multiple countries. Boat People initially sailed to countries closest to their own such as Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Indonesia. The UNHCR established a temporary agreement whereby these countries, many of which began refusing asylum to further refugees, would serve as “first asylums.” This meant the refugees would only stay there temporarily until they could be screened and enter nations like the U.S. and Canada.
  6. Countries grew less welcoming to refugees as time went on. Despite the 1979 agreement, the number of Vietnamese Boat People increased in first asylum countries faster than they could process. Some estimate that for every refugee who left one of these countries, three more arrived. Hostility towards the refugees eventually increased, while political situations within each country further exacerbated tensions. Hong Kong, for example, refused to accept Chinese economic migrants but accepted Vietnamese refugees, causing conflict between the nations.
  7. Swamped by refugees to the point of exhaustion, Malaysia faced difficult choices when it came to Boat People. The situation worsened to the point that Malaysians pushed back one vessel having approximately 2,500 refugees on board. This was due in part to ethnic tension between Malay Muslims and the native Chinese. Boat People landing in areas largely inhabited by a Muslim populace further aggravated tension. As Robert Miller, the ambassador to Malaysia at the time put itA “From the Malaysian standpoint they have a very delicate ethnic balance in the country… they have an ‘ethnic fault line running the length and breadth of their country between the Malay Muslims and the pork-eating Chinese.” As a result, they, like other Southeast Asian countries, eventually refused to accept further refugees.
  8. “Full asylum” nations showed fatigue as the crisis continued. As more refugees entered the United States, people began to question whether the Vietnamese refugees were fleeing due to fear or financial situations. Suspicion arose and screening processes intensified as fewer nations wanted to house the refugees at all. As Miller put it “From the field we were always pressing for earlier decisions and decisions for bigger quotas. From the Washington perspective, they were pressing us to increase international cooperation –get more countries to take more so we could take less.”
  9. Thousands of refugees found stable homes. Though Vietnamese Boat People constituted a refugee crisis, it soothed over several years. Refugees who passed screening and inspection entered the U.S., Canada, Britain, and Australia able to begin new lives. While most ultimately flew the last leg of their journey on planes, at least one group made it to Australia by boat. The main solution for refugees resettling included working directly with the Vietnamese government, which eventually sanctioned departures from the country.
  10. Survival stories live on. Fleeing Vietnam was dangerous and offered no guarantee, but survivors found new lives in their new homes. Vietnamese immigrant communities eventually flourished. The UNHRC continued its work making transportation out of Vietnam legal and even encouraged. Nowadays, descendants of those who left in fear can return to discover their heritage and the stories of their ancestors, ensuring that the legacy of Boat People will live on. The preservation of their history and ongoing peaceful relations with Vietnam created a solution that finally materialized.

The fallout from the Vietnam War was, as the fallout from many wars, far worse than anticipated. These stories  and day’s refugee crisis show that people can be far less welcoming to refugees than we might hope. However, the survival of those who lived to tell these stories indicates that dangerous risks can lead to safer futures. These 10 facts about Vietnamese Boat People show that when accepted, refugees can thrive and improve relationships between nations.

– Mason Sansonia
Photo: Flickr

Cambodian genocideIn 1975, the Khmer Rouge gained control of the Cambodian government with the intent to transform Cambodia into a communist state. As a result, millions of civilians were evacuated from the cities into labor camps where an estimated 1.7 million died from starvation, torture, abuse and execution.

For four years, the Khmer Rouge under the control of former Prime Minister Pol Pot wreaked havoc in Cambodia, creating one of the most devastating mass killings in global history. While the atrocities today are widely known, there are still many facts about the Cambodian genocide that the general public does not know.

Important Facts About the Cambodian Genocide

  1. Unlike other genocides in which specific ethnic groups are targeted for execution, the Cambodian genocide had no exceptions and would single out doctors, teachers, minorities, people with an education, children and even babies.
  2. Pol Pot wanted the nation to revert to a self-sufficient way of living where money had no influence in society. This led to the forced evacuation of cities into the rural communities for a “fresh start.”
  3. Among the near two million dead were an estimated 100,000 Cham Muslims and 20,000 Vietnamese.
  4. While some facts about the Cambodian genocide gained international recognition, it lacked an international investigation due to the United States’ recent loss in the Vietnam War and the hesitance to become involved in the region again.
  5. In the years following the calamity, Cambodia began opening up to the international community again with survivors sharing their stories and recollections. With horrific facts about the Cambodian genocide coming to light, Hollywood created the movie “The Killing Fields” based off of victims’ firsthand experiences. This film brought worldwide attention to what was, just a few years earlier, internationally neglected.
  6. The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, otherwise known as the ECCC, was established in 1997 with the assistance of the United Nations. The purpose of the tribunal was to try the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge for the mass crimes committed during the genocide.
  7. Pol Pot faced a show trial in 1997 where he was sentenced to house arrest. He died just less than a year later, never facing a real trial for his crimes and leaving millions of affected people without the chance to bring him to justice.
  8. Victims were allowed to actively participate in the trial proceedings as complainants and civil parties, giving them the satisfaction of justice being enforced. The amount of victims present during each case varied from 94 to 4,128.
  9. Throughout the trials, three offenders were convicted and four were charged for allegations pertaining to crimes against humanity, homicide, violations of the 1956 Cambodian Penal Code, breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and genocide.
  10. The closing statements for the final case lasted nine days in June 2017 and the final judgment is expected to be presented in 2018.

The Cambodian genocide itself may have only lasted four years but the effects from it will continue to last for years, decades and even centuries. The Cambodian people will continue to rebuild their nation and their own lives, working toward a better, more peaceful future.

– Samantha Harward
Photo: Flickr

Why Vietnam Loves the U.S.Vietnam and America engaged in one of the 20th century’s ugliest conflicts. Yet the Vietnamese of today (and Vietnamese Millennials in particular) hold a favorable view of their former enemy. While the popularity of the United States sunk in 2017 throughout the globe, Vietnam’s approval of the U.S. only grew. The key to why Vietnam loves the U.S. lies in how Vietnam benefits from international trade and foreign aid.

In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that would lower tariff barriers on trade. The United States withdrew from the negotiations. But Vietnam remained in, as 89 percent of Vietnamese were supportive of the TPP, according to a Pew survey. And, as predicted by economists Michael Plummer and Peter Petri, the nations involved in the TPP could gain $147 billion in income by 2030.

Vietnam’s support for free trade draws from its history. In addition to the 20th-century war, the U.S. trade embargo on Vietnam added to the country’s economic woes. The Asian country enriched itself once market opportunities opened up. Growing tourism on Vietnam’s beaches also gave the country the money required for a sustainable recovery.

Tran Thuc Huyen, a master’s candidate currently residing in Washington, commented on how economics, more than goodwill, explains why Vietnam loves the U.S. “What we’ve seen is the U.S. efforts to make war reparations here in Vietnam, like offering education scholarships as part of its soft-power diplomacy,” he said.

Despite Vietnam’s status as a poorer country, it ranks fifth among nations sending their students to American institutions. In addition, it grades in the top 10 among foreign buyers of residential properties in the U.S. These economic interests travel both ways. Forbes Magazine and the World Bank consider Vietnam an investment haven for entrepreneurs. Vietnam looks to American infrastructure investments as an alternative to their inefficient government-run programs.

In 2014, Llewellyn King of the Huffington Post toured Vietnam and interviewed its people. The Vietnamese had little interest in talking about the war. “They wanted to know three things,” said King, “…how could they get American goods, how could they sell their goods in the U.S. market, and what was the United States going to do about China?” Vietnam loves the U.S. because it wants to enrich its people, with the same methods America used, to become an economic superpower.

– Nick Edinger

Photo: Flickr

The Vietnam War ended decades ago, but its impact on the Vietnamese people still remains. The heavy bombing mission, the chemical warfare, and the mark of war on veterans still have strong effect on Vietnamese citizens.

In the air warfare, American forces dropped more than eight million tons of explosives in both urban and rural areas. In the urban areas, any remaining bombs have been deactivated. However, there are not enough resources to diffuse remaining bombs in the rural areas. When farmers attempt to revive the areas to plant crop, they unfortunately detonate some of these bombs and suffer heavy injuries. In addition, children mistake these bombs as toys, which results in many casualties.  In Vietnam, the main source of income for people in poverty is agricultural. These remaining bombs prevent farmers from reviving their lands and making a living.

The chemical warfare has the most devastating effect on Vietnamese people and plants. The toxin, which was used in the war, was “Agent Orange.” The toxic chemical was sprayed on the field by airplanes. The “Agent Orange” objective was to eradicate plants along with any living organism in the intended area. Originally, the chemical was used to kill the forest and draw out the Vietcong, but its side effect is hard to ignore. Throughout the war, close to two million acres of agricultural land and forest were destroyed. The “Agent Orange” effect is still visible to human eyes. This toxic chemical also has the ability to cause mutation in human genes. Many children who were born in affected areas are deformed and have many disabilities.

Last but not least, war always comes with human casualties. The war not only reduced the Vietnamese population, but also took a toll on the war veterans. American soldiers had the proper equipment for war, but the Vietnamese soldiers did not. Therefore, Vietnamese soldiers suffered heavy casualties. However, because of the lack of medical supply and the lack of necessary medical knowledge, many soldiers did not have the appropriate treatments and are still suffering from those wounds today. The new government did not have the resources to take care of disabled veterans and they become jobless. These soldiers eventually begin living in poverty.

The war ended and the world moved on. However, the effect of this war still remains and is still visible like it was just yesterday.

Phong Pham

Sources: History Learning, University of Illinois, War Legacies
Photo: Southwest Desert Lover



Members of the Armed Forces who are in war zones often adopt stray dogs as companions to substitute for the family members and friends they miss overseas. This collection shows pictures of these canine pals going back as far as the Vietnam War.

Dogs of War
In March 2010 in the Lashkar Gah, Helmand province of Afghanistan, a dog sniffed out a hidden bomb device that would have killed two U.S. front line guards. The soldiers named him ‘Alan the Vallon’ and kept him around for sniffing out IEDs. But in a fight with the Taliban, Alan got left behind because strays are not allowed on military vehicles. Two months later, a village Elder said that a dog was being held for ransom at a Taliban base because he was able to sniff out hidden bombs and was therefore worth a lot. When the base was taken by U.S. soldiers, they found that same familiar dog; he had broken ribs but was still alive. Captain Mark Townend renamed him ‘Brin’ because of the color of his coat.

Dogs of War
Sergeant Russell applies a forceful embrace to two stray dogs, days before the end of his 16-month tour of duty to Afghanistan.

Dogs of War
A picture of a German Shepherd named Drak. He is an Afghanistan bomb detector, who, along with then 27-year-old Sergeant Kenneth Fischer, survived a suicide bombing that killed seven people.

Dogs of War
Stray dogs, photo taken in Dubrovnik, Croatia during the Balkan War in 1991.

Dog 5
Stray dogs, photo taken in Pleiku, Vietnam during the Vietnam War in 1971.

– Jeff Reese
Sources: Brin Baldwin, Peter Vanagtmael, Spartan Cast Productions, Flickr, Flickr Balkan War

US AID to Detoxify Da Nang Airport
Earlier this week, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that they will be initiating a program to detoxify Da Nang Airport of any remaining dioxin.

Da Nang Airport, located in the largest city in central Vietnam, has a long military history and was used as a US military airbase for a period of years during the Vietnam War. Dioxin is a highly toxic substance that was used in Agent Orange – used by the US military as a defoliant during the war. Da Nang was a storage and handling facility for Agent Orange, and the airport was previously identified as one of three dioxins “hot spots” throughout Vietnam.

Locals who live near the airport were tested by the Hatfield Consultants Company in 2006, and the tests confirmed that 24 of the 62 residents tested positive for dioxin contamination. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dioxin contamination has been linked to numerous types of cancers, impairment of the nervous system and reproductive system, and diabetes.  A local villager, whose husband succumbed to cancer in 2008, said, “On days when it floods dark, contaminated water from lakes on the airport’s ground flows into my land that is used for vegetable cultivation.” The plants then die, she continued, although the stems are still used for food.

USAID has been collaborating with the Vietnamese government and several other agencies for the detoxification project, which will run through 2016. The company TerraTherm will use the In-Pile Thermal Desorption process to rid approximately 73,000 cubic meters of airport soil of dioxin. This process uses the long-term heating of soil in above-ground structures to rid the soil of contaminants. The technique has been used successfully on various other decontamination projects.

With well over 1 million passengers annually passing through Da Nang Airport, USAID’s efforts to eradicate dioxin will be beneficial for the expansion of the airport and especially for the health of the local inhabitants.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Tuoi Tre News