Plaintive Cries Heard across Oceans

“No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of her/his nationality, nor denied the right to change her/his nationality.”
1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights

We at Viettouch are compelled to write about an appalling dilemma of the forgotten Vietnamese refugees in the Palawan camps of the Philippines.  We hope that our voice will direct worldwide readers' attention to this urgent humanitarian distress.  At the heart of this story, these refugees are entitled to a smidgen of human rights therefore forcible repatriation is not an option.

The 2,000 stateless and homeless Vietnamese refugees haunted by decades of strife became living portraits of tragic human-made sufferings since 1989.   These people have risked the high seas, starvation, and illness in the hope that they would join their loved ones and relatives.   They willingly endure untold emotional and physical hardships in a foreign land so long as they could muster the hope to find their loved ones and to live and work without ethnic, or political, or religious persecutions.

By a twist of fate, these Vietnamese refugees are left vulnerable and forgotten in a refugee camp only because they are not recognized as "true refugees" by the UNHCR.   If we were to follow the UNHCR rulings to the letter, these Vietnamese people do not exist.   The classification of "refugee" would facilitate potential host countries to grant asylum to people in need far more readily than relying on those host countries to formulate their own domestic policies in order to accept any refugee.  In other words, each country determines its own criteria to accept refugees should it so desires.   This method is confusing at best, and at worse, discourages potential host countries to wade through hours of domestic policy debates and navigate through international politics just to add some more immigrants to its census.  The method is not exactly enticing to countries that might be willing to offer asylum.  No wonder these Vietnamese refugees were left in the Philippines throughout these 16 years.  Admittedly, I am a great deal wiser since I last wrote three letters to implore the UNHCR to intervene on behalf of these stranded refugees.  I now understand why my pleas on their behalf are met with silence and indifference.   The impossible circumstance of these stranded Vietnamese refugees is not a concern and has not been a relevant issue since 1989.

Some will ask why don't these Vietnamese return to their country of origin once they discover how tenuous and uncertain their lives and future are in the refugee camps? Or some will argue that there are refugees in other parts of the world that also suffer, and what makes these Vietnamese refugees so special?  Since when did our shared sense of humanity descend so low that instead of offering a helping hand, we relieve our conscience by questioning which set of refugees suffers more than the others, or pondering as to why they didn't stay where they came from?  Obviously, people don't flee their country, leaving their worldly goods behind, risking life and limb only to be condescended to, and judged by some cynics among the wealthy nations.

It is patently easier for those of us living in relative safety and comfort to pose these speculative questions and debate about the fate of these refugees without losing any sleep or derailing our daily lives.  These Vietnamese refugees could have been our families or us on a different timeline of history.  They have defied all odds to survive this long and still remain hopeful that somehow their plaintive cries for help will be heard by anyone beyond those camp gates.  These caring Vietnamese Canadians of have heard their cries by tirelessly campaigning for their government to accept 500 refugees.

Viettouch also hears their laments.  We urge our readers to take a moment to call your legislative representatives to hasten the process of granting these remaining 1,500 refugees asylum in our country.   All it takes is a single of act of kindness that will facilitate these stateless refugees to reunite with their loved ones.  We think sixteen years of debates among the wealthy nations is indeed an exhaustive exercise that needs to end quickly with durably humane solutions.

Tuyet A. Ngoc Tran
© 2005 USA