Background: 35 years of Vietnamese refugee resettlement

According to the Migration Policy Institute, more than a million Vietnamese refugees and immigrants live in the United States. The first refugees were mainly ex-military and government officials and Vietnamese who worked for the United States during the war

Five veterans of the Vietnam War raise a toast to freedom
Five veterans of the Vietnam War raise a toast to freedom at a recent dinner party in Greensboro, N.C.  Left to right: Tang Truong, Hoang Lu, Porter Halyburton, Tu Pham and Ro Mai.
Photo: Marty Halyburton

According to the Migration Policy Institute, more than a million Vietnamese refugees and immigrants live in the United States.  The first refugees were mainly ex-military and government officials and Vietnamese who worked for the United States during the war.  

Next came the “boat people,” who fled as conditions in southern Vietnam worsened in the late 1970s.  In response to reports that as many as half of all “boat people” were dying at sea, the United Nations negotiated an “Orderly Departure” for some Vietnamese with relatives abroad.  Meanwhile, those without relatives abroad kept on escaping by boat.

Registration for the Orderly Departure Program closed in 1994, but was reopened from January 2006 through June 2008 as the Humanitarian Resettlement Initiative (HRI) in response to advocates concerned that “there were eligible individuals who were unable ‘through no fault of their own’ to apply by 1994,” Pam Lewis of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, U.S. State Department, told Church World Service.

Eligible were people who had spent three or more years in re-education camps beginning on or shortly after the war’s end on April 30, 1975, and/or were direct-hire employees of either the U.S. government or nongovernmental or other Western organizations for five or more years during the war.  Also eligible: their adult unmarried sons and daughters.

The first HRI arrivals came in summer 2006, and all cases were adjudicated by summer 2009.  In all, about 2,500 are expected to arrive, Lewis said.  She and PRM’s Terry Rusch traveled to Vietnam in June to celebrate with the Vietnamese government “that we were finally coming to the conclusion of these programs.”

Many in this group are in their 60s-80s, and not all of them came with working-age children.  “Age is not the issue,” Lewis said, “but bringing the Vietnam refugee program to a humane and final closure by opening it up one more time to eligible people who had not had the opportunity to apply.”

 

 

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