Vietnamese families finally find homes

Local association sponsors refugees after nearly 20 years stranded in the Philippines

Jennifer Yang, The Edmonton Journal

Published: Thursday, June 19

EDMONTON – Nearly two decades after they climbed into boats on the coast of Vietnam and pushed off for freedom, three families found a new home Wednesday in Canada.

After escaping persecution at the hands of Vietnam’s Communist regime, they had been living in the Philippines without status for up to 20 years.

“I feel like my dream really has come true,” said Vinh Luong, moments after stepping off the airplane with his wife and eight-year-old son. “It has been 20 years and this is the only date I’ve been waiting for.”

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Luong’s family were among the millions of so-called Vietnamese “boat people,” many of whom landed in the Philippines. Some were able to move on and find citizenship in new countries, but 2,500 became stranded when camps were shut down and refugee screening procedures tightened.

The Philippines government allowed them to stay, but only as stateless people.

“It’s like they have been on this boat for 18 years and they’ve finally found a harbour,” said Lisa Nguyen, executive director of VOICE, a non-profit organization that worked with the Vietnamese Canadian Federation to bring families to Canada.

“It’s incredible. It really is incredible.”

VOICE has been helping stateless Vietnamese people find new homes in recent years, and has resettled 2,300 in Australia, Norway and the United States. In 2007, the Canadian government announced a program to help them move here, as long as they had a Canadian sponsor.

For Luong and the other families, their sponsor was Edmonton’s Vietnamese community.

Despite a five-hour flight delay, members of the Edmonton Viets’ Association and Truc Lam monastery anxiously awaited Wednesday at the International Airport, clutching Canada flags and big yellow signs that read Freedom at Last! Welcome to Edmonton.

“They’ve been looking for a place to settle down,” said Edmontonian Dan Ngo, who came to Canada as a boat person in 1986. “It was harsh for them because they could not see their future.”

Edmonton’s Vietnamese community raised nearly $50,000 through fundraisers and dinners. They want to bring at least five more families from the Philippines.

Vietnamese businesses in Edmonton have already lined up jobs for some of Wednesday’s arrivals, who will live temporarily at Truc Lam monastery.

For Ngo, it is only right that the Edmonton community should throw them a lifeline.

“It’s our Canadian duty to help another immigrant,” Ngo said. “To be here to see them, it’s like deja vu when I put my first step on Canadian soil.”



Saturday,  May 26, 2007 3:24 AM


The wooden boats were designed to haul little more than fruit along the rivers of Vietnam.But more than a million South Vietnamese, fearful after Saigon fell to communist forces in 1975, became the cargo, risking death on the South China Sea.

The vessels, maybe 6 feet wide and as long as 40 feet, were a salvation for those who made it to a friendly shore and a deathtrap for those who fell victim to storms or pirates.

Visitors to the Asian Festival today at Franklin Park will get to see one such vessel used by a group of “boat people.”

“Freedom is what we were searching for when we left Vietnam 24 years ago,” said Trang Nguyen of Lewis Center. She was 14 years old when she escaped in one of the slender boats. “It almost cost us our lives. I want to share that story with people so they realize and appreciate what they have.”

The boat on display today at the festival is being exhibited across the United States. Paying for the tour are Vietnamese-Americans like Nguyen and Loc Tran who want other Americans, and especially their children, to see.

The boat was on display yesterday outside Tran’s Ocean Seafood restaurant, 2225 Morse Rd.

Madalenna Lai is president of the Vietnamese Cultural House in California, which is helping to sponsor the tour. In the past five years it has traveled to 40 states.

Lai, 64, made the crossing in 1975 with her four children and her sister and her five children. Lai was reunited with her husband after he spent 10 years in a communist prison. She carries dozens of pictures and recounts the stories of those who survived.

Outside Tran’s restaurant, Vietnamese refugees who became Ohioans gathered to share stories in their native tongue.

The boat on display was found abandoned in Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines.

The sides and bottom of the 35-foot boat are spotted with holes. Planks affixed crossways served as seats.

It is a smaller version of the boat Nguyen and her 17-year-old sister used to escape Vietnam in 1983. Their parents used their life savings to send their daughters for a better life. As they neared the moored boat, police spotted them. Some men accompanying them fought the officers as the women ran for the boat. Most of the men made it to the boat as the officers opened fire, she said.

Thirty-six people made it on board.

After less than 48 hours at sea, the boat’s small motor failed. They drifted for eight days and consumed all the food and water, which was rationed to less than a half cup three times a day. A U.S. helicopter spotted them and notified a merchant ship to pick them up.

As difficult as Nguyen’s experience was, Tran endured worse. Nearly 100 people were squeezed into the boat he was in.

There was so little room, no one could lie down to sleep during the seven days it took to reach Thailand. Water was limited to a half cup a day.

Their boat was attacked twice by pirates. Tran said he had to swallow a slender gold ring, his only possession other than the clothes he was wearing.

Another man on board was assaulted when the pirates found he had tried to hide something gold in his mouth.

Tran’s parents had borrowed $1,000 for his passage. It would have taken Tran more than three years to earn that much taxiing people around Saigon on a bicycle, he said.

Tran and Nguyen say they know they are the lucky ones.

And both say they plan to make sure their children realize it.

“Freedom is what we were searching for when we left Vietnam 24 years ago. It almost cost us our lives.”

Trang Nguyen
Vietnamese refugee

Vancouver display will commemorate exodus of Vietnamese

Doug Ward, Vancouver Sun

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2007

One day in 1986, Khanh Vo, a middle-aged nurse and mother, clambered into a boat and fled her native Vietnam.

Her middle-class apartment had been expropriated by the Communist government and she barely earned enough to feed her family, despite her medical skills.

So she joined the wave of refugees that came to be known as the Vietnamese boat people.

Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong cling to a barbed wire fence while waiting in line for food outside a temporary holding area in 1989.View Larger Image View Larger Image

Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong cling to a barbed wire fence while waiting in line for food outside a temporary holding area in 1989.

Reuters, Files

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Her four-day journey to Malaysia was safe and happily uneventful — unlike the horrific experiences of many other Vietnamese refugees who drowned, were killed or raped by pirates, suffered long periods of hunger or languished in squalid refugee camps.

Vo eventually settled in Vancouver, where years later she was joined by the daughter she left behind in Vietnam.

This same daughter, Que-Tran Hoang, now 27, is organizing a display in Vancouver this weekend that commemorates the fall of Saigon to the Communists in April 1975 and the migration of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese boat people to other countries.

“We try to educate younger Vietnamese-Canadians about the Vietnam War,” said Hoang.

“We try to give them their parents’ point of view which is that South Vietnamese forces were fighting the North Vietnamese Communists to protect South Vietnam.”

Many older Vietnamese-Canadians, she added, are concerned that their children and grandchildren have been influenced by other perspectives on the Vietnam War, including the belief of many North Americans that South Vietnamese politicians and soldiers were puppets of the American military that pursued a tragic and unpopular war.

The key event in this weekend’s celebration is the display of the Vietnamese Freedom Boat in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Its purpose is to remind a younger generation of Vietnamese-Canadians of the ordeals endured by many of the so-called boat people, said Hoang.

The Freedom Boat was one of two motorized light fishing boats that left Vietnam on May 12, 1981.

The boats battled high waves for about a week before arriving on a beach in Bataan, Philippines.

Filipino police were shocked by the condition of the refugees, who had been so hungry they had actually eaten most of their clothes.

All of the 50 refugees miraculously survived.

Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos was so moved by their story that he had the smaller boat displayed at a site dedicated to the memory of the boat people called Freedom Plaza in Bataan.

The 10-metre-long boat became known as Freedom Boat. The vessel was recently given by the Filipino government to a Vietnamese cultural group in California, and is now on a tour of the U.S. and Canada.

Between 1975 and 1989, 600,000 Vietnamese “boat people” resettled abroad.

Many of them spent time in refugee camps set up by the United Nations to cope with the humanitarian crisis.

About 145,000 came to Canada, the majority between 1975 and 1984.

Hoang, who is now constituency assistant to Vancouver-Kingsway NDP MLA Adrian Dix, said there are about 27,000 Vietnamese in B.C. — about half of them refugees.

The boat people phenomenon came to a halt in 1989 when the United Nations placed greater restrictions on Vietnamese refugee claims.

The Last Boat Out of Vietnam: An American Success Story The Triumph of a Vietnamese-American Family in their Adopted Homeland
The legacy of the Vietnam War continues to resonate here in the United States. The current War in Iraq has rekindled debate and discussion about Vietnam, as people share memories and make comparisons. The war was certainly very tragic for many American soldiers and their families, but we don’t often hear stories about the South Vietnamese and their struggles against the Vietcong. After all this time, misconceptions still exist in the United States about what really happened over there.(PRWEB) April 6, 2006 — The legacy of the Vietnam War continues to resonate here in the United States. The current War in Iraq has rekindled debate and discussion about Vietnam, as people share memories and make comparisons. The war was certainly very tragic for many American soldiers and their families, but we don’t often hear stories about the South Vietnamese and their struggles against the Vietcong. After all this time, misconceptions still exist in the United States about what really happened over there.

“What many Americans don’t know is how grateful people in South Vietnam are to the American soldiers for giving their lives and helping to defend their country,” says Kenny Truong, a survivor of the Vietnam War and member of a proud Vietnamese-American family. Truong’s epic family saga is detailed in The Last Boat Out: Memoirs of a Triumphant Vietnamese-American Family (GasLight Publishing, 2006).

The book follows the struggles his family went through in Vietnam and also their triumphant rise in the United States. When he was only six-months old, Kenny and his mother were seriously wounded by shrapnel during a firefight. They endured the constant threat of the Vietcong for years before finally getting on the “last boat out of Vietnam” and coming to America.

“My parents fought all odds and obstacles, and they were determined to bring us to the United States,” says Truong. “I learned from Mom that we will never give up and we will never take no for a simple answer.” The book was written by Kenny’s parents and translated to English by him and his wife, Ton-Nu Phuong-Thao.

It’s the story of the family’s triumph over incredible adversity and the gratitude they feel toward the American soldiers and sailors who helped in their losing battle, toward the soldiers and sailors who helped them escape, and toward the American people who welcomed the with open arms.

“During our first days in the States, my family had to adjust to new faces, culture, and language, but I knew deep down this great country offered something that Vietnam could not, and that was freedom,” says Kenny’s father, Truong Nhu Dinh. “We speak for most Vietnamese-Americans when we say we are appreciative for everything the Americans have done for us, especially the soldiers and their families for making the ultimate sacrifices. We owe this country our gratitude and know it will be impossible to repay America.”

Here in the United States, hurt and bitterness remain due to the misunderstanding of what happened in Vietnam and misconceptions about the feelings of the South Vietnamese people. Many people still believe that the South Vietnamese didn’t want us there and didn’t help defend their country. The Truong family wants people to know the truth.

“The elders and babies were carried piggyback by U.S. soldiers,” says Kenny’s mother, Nga Truong-Nhu. “A young soldier held my hand to help me walk to shore. American soldiers also carried heavy bags for Vietnamese refugees. I was moved to tears by the help from Americans I’d never met before.”

It is the family’s fervent hope that their message will help to heal old wounds that have festered in the minds and memories of unappreciated servicemen, many of whom gave their lives, both literally and figuratively, to the war. They want to share their story with the world and let them know how their American dream came true.

“America helped strengthen our family values,” says Nga Truong-Nhu. “Freedom has eased the pain I felt during the Vietnam War. My children have better lives in America. Freedom and independence are priceless.”

For a review copy of the book or to set up an interview with one of the authors, please contact Sarah Van Blaricum at 727-443-7115, ext. 207