Voyage to Freedom: A Story of the Boat People
Crammed into small boats with hundreds of other refugees, the Vietnamese boat people pushed out into the dangers of the South China Sea. They fled their homes and country, risking their very lives, to find freedom in a new land. They faced the threats of exposure, dehydration, and murder at the hands of pirates. Once they reached new countries, they still faced possible deportation back to the nation they risked so much to leave.
Vietnamese refugees in Thailand and Vietnamese Americans in San Diego, who had already made the treacherous journey, decided that they needed to do something for the remaining boat people. They united under the banner of Boat People SOS. In the 1980s, BPSOS partnered with Médecins Sans Frontières and Cap Anamur to conduct boat rescue missions in the South China Sea. These missions led to the rescue of over 3,300 boat people from the dangers of the sea.
Securing the boat people’s safe voyage was only the first step to help them make a new life for themselves. As Vietnam’s trade partnerships with other countries continued to grow, some countries began to see taking in the refugees as a possible barrier to a good relationship with the Vietnamese government. As countries of refuge began to force Vietnamese refugees to return to the country they just fled from, BPSOS provided vital legal support. BPSOS joined several other international organizations to establish Legal Assistance for Vietnamese Asylum Seekers (LAVAS). A team of 12 lawyers and 12 paralegals saved approximately 1000 of the Boat People from being forced to return to the repressive Vietnamese regime.
BPSOS' mission of aiding and equipping Vietnamese communities throughout the world is still as important as ever. BPSOS is seeking to train the next generation of Vietnamese Americans to advance social justice, language access, and business development in each of their communities. The Vietnamese who sacrificed so much to find freedom can continue to build up the countries they now call home. The resilience and courage of the Boat People continues to shine a light that reminds us to not forget the brave people who still face repression in Vietnam and around the world.