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Why refugees fled: The fall of Saigon

The Story

Just before dawn on April 30, 1975, a helicopter rises into the sky over Saigon. It is carrying the last-remaining American marines out of Vietnam. Fourteen years of war between American-backed South Vietnam and communist North Vietnam are over. But the exodus of people from Vietnam has only begun. Vietnamese refugee Francis Win was only a boy when his family fled, but he talks to CBC Television about the arrival of the Communists and the difficult years that followed. The air evacuation from Saigon was supposed to be one of the largest transports of refugees ever undertaken. The Pentagon had been told to plan for the movement of 175,000 South Vietnamese who were in danger of being executed by the Communists for their service to the South Vietnam government or the United States. In reality, only a small fraction of that number were evacuated. The scenes were wrenching - people trying and failing to force their way into the U.S. Embassy, men being punched down as they tried to board American helicopters, Vietnamese babies being passed over fences to open hands and an unknown future. Those South Vietnamese allies left behind faced years of hard labour, imprisonment and death. The same was true for American allies in Laos, where an estimated ten per cent of the Hmong tribespeople were killed by Communist forces. Those who could, fled - by air, land or sea. In the spring of 1975, 130,000 refugees escaped Vietnam. Tiny boats full of South Vietnamese soldiers and their families set off down the Mekong River in the hopes of surviving the 600 mile journey to the Malaysian coast. They were the first wave of Vietnamese boat people. But they were not the last.

Medium: Television
Program: Broadcast 1
Broadcast Date: May 1, 2000
Guest: Francis Win
Reporter: Belle Puri
Duration: 2:38

Did You know?

• During the 18-hour evacuation from Saigon, a fleet of helicopters airlifted 6,500 Vietnamese refugees to American ships offshore. The undertaking was called "Operation Frequent Wind."

• The last helicopter from Saigon left behind some 300 South Vietnamese who had been promised escape.

• During evacuations the previous day, so many South Vietnamese helicopters swarmed to American ships that they had to be pushed overboard and destroyed to make room for new arrivals.

• Of the many thousands of refugees evacuated from Vietnam in the month of April, Canada agreed to take 2,000 and also an additional 1,000 who succeeded in escaping on their own.

• Canada also took in 122 war orphans out of the nearly 3,000 children flown out of Vietnam in early April 1975, during America's "Operation Babylift."

• Before South Vietnam surrendered, Canada sent out 1,100 letters promising Canadian landed immigrant status to 14,000 South Vietnamese with relatives in Canada if they could make it out of Vietnam. It was predicted that no more than a thousand would ever make it to Canada.

• Immediately upon South Vietnam's surrender, Canada also offered permanent resident status to the 4,000 Vietnamese already in the country if they did not want to return to Vietnam.


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