South East Asia Essay, Research Paper
Throughout history there have been many different refugee movements in
Southeast Asia. It is highly important to understand the difference between a
refugee and an immigrant. The Webster?s dictionary defines a refugee as ?one
who flees to a shelter or place of safety.? A refugee flees the country in
which he or she lives in for many different reasons. It can be the fear of
persecution, fleeing from things like natural disasters, or even war. On the
other hand, immigrants are people who voluntarily depart their homelands to seek
a better life. In Vietnam the word ?ty nan? means refugee. ?Ty? means to
run away from something, to escape, and ?nan? means calamity or disaster (Willmott,
1966: 252). The purpose of this essay is to discuss the Vietnamese refugee
movement in Southeast Asia. It will explore why people left their country of
origin and it will also outline their experiences during their journey in the
countries of their first and final refuge.
The period between 1965 and 1975, was considered to be the ten most violent
years in Vietnam. In the south, almost two million people were killed or wounded
because of immense physical destruction of the countryside (Brainard and
Zaharlick, 1987: 330). According to Brainard and Zaharlick, refugees from
Vietnam were ?primarily farmers from war-torn villages who fled the poverty
and hunger in boats in the years that followed? (Brainard and Zaharlick, 1982:
Typically, refugees from Vietnam were thought of as ?the boat people.?
However, most of these people left Vietnam by crossing the Chinese boarder and
not by boat. They were also ethnic Chinese, except that they had lived in
Vietnam for generations (Willmott, 1966: 252). According to Willmott these
ethnic Chinese ?suffered increasing discrimination and prejudice and
eventually were asked to leave? (Willmott, 1966: 253). After being given no
alternative option these individuals resettled in places like Guangxi and
Guangdong, in and around Southern China and some in Hong Kong (Willmott, 1966:
256). In an interview with a young man Willmott quotes him as saying ?my
family lived in Vietnam for seven generations . . . I would prefer; along with
many others to remain in Vietnam but I was forced to leave my Vietnamese wife
and children, along with the country? (Willmott, 1966: 267).
The people of Chinese origin were forced to leave due to a shift in world
politics. There were many tensions between the resident Chinese and Vietnamese.
During the Vietnam War, there was a fear of Chinese dominance and it was
revitalized in 1945 and 1946 by looting during the Chinese occupation. This
forced Hanoi to send Chinese troops on to Vietnamese territory. (Wurfel, 1980:
On the other hand, the Chinese that were referred to as ?the boat people?
were forced to flee for completely different reasons. These included economic
hardship, the worst of natural disasters and the United States refusal to
provide the reconstruction aid it had promised in the Geneva Agreement. It was
in this Geneva Agreement that the United States promised to pay three point
seven billion to Vietnam to help them overcome ?the destruction by defoliants,
block buster bombs and napalm that had rained down on the countryside of Vietnam
for so many years? (Willmott, 1966: 254). Due to the vast amounts of natural
disasters Vietnamese government decided to force the Chinese into the
countryside and out of urban areas. However, they did not want to become
pheasants. It was here in the countryside that many Chinese found ?the work
was hard and the food was scarce? (Willmott, 1966: 254).
The second factor occurred in 1977 and 1978, when the Vietnamese economy
began to drastically change and there was an economic crisis. ?The Vietnamese
Communists suddenly nationalized commerce in March of 1978, thus expropriating
many Chinese businessmen in Ho Chi Minh City? (Willmott, 1966: 257). At this
time the Chinese were forced to go to ?new economic zones.? Some of these
Chinese decided to embark on a journey on the South China Sea. This was due to
the ?blatant discrimination? that was occuring in Vietnam around 1978. Many,
if not all Chinese, were removed from their jobs, their children were denyed
schooling and the Vietnamese even removed their ration cards (Willmott, 1966:
?Boat people? who survived the seas were believed to be less than half
the number who fled. It was estimated that just over ?20,000 Boat people are
buried in the South China Sea? (Adelman, 1982: 19). This was due to the fact
that many countries did not want to accept all of these refugees. Many of them
were said to be ?lost at sea? meaning they were attacked by pirates or
drowned. Some refugees had no choice and headed straight to refugee camps.
However, their situation did not improve here.
?Packed by thousands into warehouses and into government
yards in Hong Kong?s Canton Road, refugees lined up for
hours to use the only washing facility-outside taps . . . On the
makeshift slums on Malaysia?s Pulau Bidong Island, precious
dollars were battered for plastic sheets to be used as rooftops.
. . Plain white rice was the only food available . . . and for some
the end of months of fear and false hopes was the South China
Sea where their bodies were stripped of all semblance of
humanity by pirates, exposure, and sharks? (Adelman, 1982: 25).
An official visited the area and also stated that ?there is simply no worse
people could be. There is no food and no medicine. The people there are
living in truly wretched conditions and it is quite possible there will be a
disaster with them? (Adelman, 1982: 25). After hearing about these horrid
conditions Canada decided to take in refugees.
Some of these ?boat people? resettled in Canada. It becomes extremely
difficult for them to adapt for many of the following reasons. First of all,
they were forced to leave their country of origin and they were essentially
opposed to coming to Canada but were given no choice. These people are thus
unwilling immigrants. Secondly, many of these ethnic Chinese were a minority in
their own country, and ?being forced to leave, they see themselves being
condemned to live as refugees, totally unprepared and unequipped, in an alien
cultural environment? (Suh, 1980: 212). As well as, racial and linguistic
differences corroborate to adaptation and integration into Canada?s culture (Suh,
1980: 213). Thus, Vietnamese refugees suffered drastic economic, psychosocial
and medical problems both before and after their resettlement in Canada (Zaharlick
and Brainard, 1982: 357). Once settled in Canada many young adult males had
employment problems and the females experienced high birth rates. All in all, it
is difficult to examine everything these individuals went through (Burton, 1979:
720). It is equally important to note that it is extremely challenging to ?understand
the refugee adaptation to the dramatic sociocultural changes they experienced?
(Burton, 1979: 704).
In conclusion, many ethnic Chinese were forced by the masses to leave Vietnam
in seek of refuge. Just to recap according to the United Nations a refugee is
?Any person who is outside any country of such person?s
nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality,
is outside any country in which such person last habitually
resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and
unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the
protection of that country because of persecution or a well-
founded fear of persecution on the account of race, religion,
nationality, (or) membership in a particular group of political
opinion? (Goza, 1987: 7).
There are many reasons why these ethnic Chinese were forced to leave Vietnam.
Some of which included fear of persecution, war, and force. This essay only
touches upon a few issues concerning Vietnamese refugees. It looks at the
reasons why people left their country of origin and it outlines their
experiences during their flight. However, in order to get a full understanding
of the refugee movement in Vietnam one would have to take into account all of
Southeast Asia, including it?s culture of war, culture of people, religion,
social structures, and its historical and political background.
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and the resettlement of Southeast Asian Refugees in the United States,? Urban
Anthropology 16 (1987):327-370.
Burton, Bruce. ?Contending Explanations of the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War,?
International Journal 34 (1979): 699-722.
Goza, Franklin William. Adjustment and Adaptation among Southeast Asian
Refugees in the United States. University Microfilms International: Michigan,
Tepper, Elliot L., ed. Southeast Asian Exodus From Tradition to Resettlement.
Suh, Matthew and David Wurfel. Canadian Cataloguing in Publishing data: Ottawa,
Willmott, W.E. ?The Chinese in Southeast Asia,? Australian Outlook 20