Vietnamese 'boat people' share refugee survival stories 40 years on
It was April 30th, 1975, forty years ago, that the last U.S. helicopter slipped over the horizon on the outskirts of Saigon and unceremoniously signaled the end of the Vietnam War. Within 24 hours, on May Day, as they'd planned it, the North Vietnamese flag went up over the Presidential Palace, and Saigon officially became Ho Chi Minh City.
But it took much longer for hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese to start new lives... Over the next four years, they clamoured onto boats headed for virtually anywhere.
Tuan Tran was part of the first wave, fleeing in November, 1975. Tuan Tran got into the boat with his two children and they became one of the many Vietnamese 'boat people', part of wave after wave of refugees fleeing Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. At least half a million died. But Tuan Tran was one of the lucky ones.
Tuan Tran's boat landed on the shores of Malaysia and he found his way to a United Nations refugee camp. But for many so called 'boat people', there was no such warm reception. Boats were often simply pushed back out to sea. And many of those people who did make it to dry land were destined to scratch out a meagre existence, with little or no support.
After four months inside that refugee camp, Tuan Tran emigrated to Canada. So did another 5,000 or so other members of that first wave, between 1975 and 1976. And another 50,000 would join them in a second wave, mostly between 1979 and 1980.
Today we're setting out to hear some of their stories four decades on, and to look back on how Canada responded to the international crisis.
We spoke with Dr. Kien Le, who was a 12-year-old boy living in Saigon forty years ago, as well as Nhu Van Nguyen, who also lived in Saigon at the time of its fall but was unable to leave the city right away. They both joined us in Toronto.
Part two of this story will air on tomorrow's edition of The Current.
This segment was produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar, Gord Westmacott, and Ines Colabrese.
Pirates and sinking ships: One refugee's story - CBC Archives
Vietnam's 'boat people' - National Geographic