Friday, March 20, 2009


Vietnam boat people arrive in US
Vietnamese refugees arrive in Los Angeles, 26 Sept
Some 200 relatives and friends waited to greet the new arrivals

After a 16-year wait, hundreds of Vietnamese boat people in the Philippines have finally arrived in the US for resettlement.

A total of 229 refugees landed in Los Angeles on Monday, to be greeted by a crowd of relatives and friends.

The move follows a US agreement with Manila last year to resettle a group of refugees who have been living in the Philippines since the late 1980s.

Some 1,400 Vietnamese are expected to move to the US in the next six months.

Hundreds of thousands of people left Vietnam in the years after the Communists defeated the South Vietnamese government in 1975.

They departed the country in small fishing boats, most of them arriving in other nations in the region where they sought refuge.

'Very happy'

Those who arrived in the Philippines have been the subject of discussions between Washington and Manila ever since.

Not allowed to work, they have been stuck in political limbo for decades.

Vietnamese refugees arrive in Los Angeles, 26 Sept
Many were overcome with emotion after their long journey

The situation became more difficult for the boat people when Washington stopped calling them refugees in 1996, instead describing them as "economic refugees".

But last year, the US and the Philippines announced a joint resettlement plan.

The 229 who arrived in the US on Monday were the first batch of at least 1,400 refugees to be allowed in under its terms.

Vu Nguyen, one of the chosen few, told Reuters news agency he was "very, very happy" his 16-year stint in the Philippines had come to an end.

But he added: "We're thankful for our stay in the Philippines," saying he would never forget Filipino friends, food and even local television programmes.

Tran Thi Do Tram also said he was looking forward to his new life.

"We have been in a very difficult situation - I had to do whatever job I could find to help my family," he told the BBC Vietnamese service.

'Closer than family'

Lan Nguyen, who arrived in the US four years ago after spending 15 years in the Philippines, was one of those waiting to greet her fellow refugees.

"We had gone through so much together. Some people had become closer to me than my own family," she told the Associated Press news agency.

But others who have already left warn that there will still be struggles ahead.

Dang Thi My Hanh, who settled in Australia earlier this year, said: "In the Philippines it was very difficult, but in Australia it is also very, very hard.

"I have to work in a restaurant owned by a Vietnamese couple. They humiliate me every day. I often cry and think I'd rather stay in the Philippines. I feel like there is no hope for people like me, anywhere."

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