Friday, March 20, 2009


href="">Cambridge Encyclopedi> :: Cambridge Encyclopedia Vol. 10

Boat People - Vietnam war boat people

mbridge Encyclopedia Vol. 10

Vietnamese who fled Vietnam by boat after the communist victory in 1975, travelling to Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and several other parts of SE Asia (c.110 000 by the end of 1990). Many died on the long voyages, or were killed by pirates. Voluntary repatriation schemes gained momentum in 1989, and the first involuntary repatriation operation was carried out by the Hong Kong authorities that December. Over 31 000 were resettled in 1990, and over 8000 repatriated. The UK suspended forced repatriation in 1990, but this began again in 1991. The term has since been applied to other groups who try to flee from a country using small craft.

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This article is about asylum seekers travelling by boat. For people living on fishing boats, see Tanka (ethnic group).

Boat people is a term (usually) referring to impoverished illegal immigrants or asylum seekers, who arrive en masse in old or crudely-made boats. The term came into common use during the 1970s, with the mass departure of Vietnamese refugees from communist-controlled Vietnam, following the Vietnam War.

It is also a widely used form of migration or escape for people migrating from Cuba, Haiti, Morocco, Vietnam or Albania.

Boat people are frequently a source of controversy in the nation they seek to immigrate to, such as the United States, Canada, Italy, Spain and Australia. Boat people are often forcibly prevented from landing at their destination, such as under Australia's "Pacific Solution", or they are subjected to mandatory detention after their arrival. Unlike the wave of Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s and early 1980s, most boat people arriving in Western countries, Australia or the USA have purchased their passage on large and overcrowded sea-worthy boats. This is why many governments brand them as economic refugees and victims of "organised people smuggling syndicates", which is partly why they have received little sympathy.

Vietnam war boat people

Events resulting from the Vietnam War led many people in Cambodia, Laos, and especially Vietnam to become refugees in the late 1970s and 1980s, after the fall of Saigon. In Vietnam, the new communist government sent many people who supported the old government in the South to "re-education camps", and others to "new economic zones." In 1979, Vietnam was at war (Sino-Vietnamese War) with the People's Republic of China (PRC), and many ethnic Chinese living in Vietnam, who felt that the government's policies directly targeted them also became "boat people." On the open seas, the boat people had to confront forces of nature, and elude pirates.

Refugee camps

The plight of the boat people became an international humanitarian crisis. The UNHCR, under the auspices of the United Nations, set up refugee camps in neighbouring countries to process the "boat people" and was awarded the 1981 Nobel Peace Prize for its work.

University of Phoenix

Camps were set up in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Indonesia. From stories told by the Vietnamese refugees, the conditions at the camps were bad. Most of the refugees came from the former South Vietnam. Among them were genuine ethnically Chinese Vietnamese refugees who escaped from Vietnam and headed to China and the city of Hong Kong.

One forgotten group of Vietnamese boat people were those who escaped land across the Cambodian and Thailand border. The Orderly Departure Program from 1979 until 1994 was one such program that helped to resettle refugees in the United States. In this program, refugees were asked to go back to Vietnam and waited for assessment. Also the half-American children in Vietnam also allowed to migrate along with their mothers or foster parents. The United States and Vietnam signed an agreement on November 15, 2005, which allows those Vietnamese to immigrate who were not able to do so before the humanitarian operation program ended in 1994.

Hong Kong adopted the "port of first asylum policy," and received over 100,000 of them in the city at its peak in the late 1980s. Frequent violent clashes between the boat people and security forces caused public outcry and mounting concerns in the early 1990s since many camps are very close to high-density residential areas.

For Australia, there was a major policy shift by the Fraser government, which abolished the White Australia policy by letting over 100,000 Vietnamese refugees in such a quick pace. The countries that accepted most of these refugees were:

United States - 823,000 Australia and Canada - 137,000 each France - 96,000 Germany and UK - 19,000 each

By late 1980s, Western Europe, the United States and Australia had run out of sympathy for the boat people . The refugees faced prospects of staying years in the camps and ultimate repatriation back to Vietnam. By the mid-1990s, the number of refugees fleeing from Vietnam had dwindled. Hong Kong was open about its willingness to take the remnants at its camp, but only some refugees took up the offer. Many refugees would have been accepted by Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, but hardly any wanted to settle in these countries.

The market reforms of Vietnam, the imminent return of Hong Kong to China by Britain and the financial incentives for voluntary returning to Vietnam caused many boat people to elect to return to Vietnam during the 1990s. Consequently, most remaining asylum seekers were voluntarily or forcibly repatriated to Vietnam, although a very small number (about 2,500) were granted residency by the Hong Kong Government in 2002, marking an end to the Vietnam boat people history. In 2005, the remaining refugees in the Philippines (around 200) were granted asylum in Canada and the United States.

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