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Vietnamese refugees look back 25 years later

The Story

Ottawa hosts a reunion between refugees and their sponsors 25 years after the fall of Saigon. And Peter Tran looks back at his life in Canada, appreciative of all he's gained. His son Anthony says he has no desire to return to the country of his parents. Vietnam has become a memory. Today, most Canadian cities offer a range of Indochinese-owned retail stores, restaurants and businesses. And many refugee families have been reunited through family-sponsored immigration. However, there are still a great number who remain incomplete, particularly families from Cambodia who lost members under Pol Pot's genocidal regime. And many refugees remain in jobs beneath their skill level. Despite that, thousands still arrive every year. But nowadays, they come through normal immigration channels. Not through refugee camps. Not over the sea.

Medium: Television
Program: Saturday Report
Broadcast Date: April 29, 2000
Guests: Anthony Tran, Peter Tran
Host: Mark Kelley
Reporter: Ron Charles
Duration: 2:38

Did You know?

• Refugees who remained in refugee camps had a different story. In 1984, tens of thousands of refugees remained in camps in Southeast Asia. Their only options were to willingly return to Vietnam, to be accepted by the country they were in, or to be resettled in another country of their choice.

• But acceptance rates by countries like the United States and the United Kingdom were down 75 per cent by 1984. "Compassion fatigue" was cited as one reason.

• Many of the refugees who remained were considered undesirable because of criminal records or drug addictions.

• In the ensuing five years, thousands of refugees were labelled as economic migrants — people looking for a better life, but not in mortal danger — and were forced to return to Vietnam. This produced regular riots in the camps.

• Finally, Vietnam's economic situation improved. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees began a program of voluntary repatriation which ran from 1987 to 1997. Many Vietnamese weary of living half-lives in refugee camps opted to return home.

• In 1994, refugees still in camps numbered 60,000. Half of these were in Hong Kong.

• On May 28, 1997, the last Vietnamese boat people to voluntarily return home from Hong Kong camps boarded their flights.

• In 1997, there were still 3,000 boat people remaining in Hong Kong — some because Vietnam wouldn't take them back.

• In February 2000, the Hong Kong government decided to shut the last camp and grant Hong Kong residency to the remaining 1400 Vietnamese refugees.

• At midnight, May 31, 2000, Hong Kong closed Pillar Point Refugee Center — the last remaining refugee camp.


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