Leaving Vietnam - The Boat People

Mrs. Anh Khuat "It was horrible. Because the first time when we... First time it was seven days and we met seven times Thai pirates. And they jump onto the boats with all kinds of knives and axes and everything. So they took everything, whatever we bring along. Gold, money, but luckily they did not kill anyone."
Mrs. Anh Khuat
audio (862 kb)
Fear of what lay ahead and a desire to give their children a better life prompted many Vietnamese people to leave the country. Between 1978 and 1981, over a million escaped by way of the sea - these were "the boat people". Most left in secret or by bribing officials, although a great number of Hoa (Chinese-Vietnamese) paid many taels of gold for permission to leave. The high cost of supplies and/or bribes to officials left the majority of boat people penniless.
Vietnamese refugees risk their lives attempting to escape in small boats (1984).
(United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)

Leaving by boat involved significant challenges. The typhoon season in Southeast Asia makes travel by sea very dangerous; Thai pirates were a constant threat; and gathering supplies such as food, water and fuel was difficult. Planning for such a trip could take several months or up to two years and people often had a number of false starts before they actually escaped.

Vietnamese refugees rescued on the South China Sea (1985).
(United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)

After the War Menu - Leaving Vietnam Refugee Camps

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