23 June, 2014

Tell a different story: freedom is not free

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Category: European Action Day, Refugees' stories
Ruxandra Pandea
7 am

Freedom is not free

by Trương Ngọc Hải


Freedom is not a free gift from God. You have to spend a lot of things and even your life to obtain it. This is a true story based on my uncle and his family’s journey to the United States on boat.

After the end of war in Vietnam, in 1975, a million Vietnamese people fled their home to other countries. They used many means of transportation to leave Vietnam, but most of them used boats. The term “Vietnamese boat people” was used.  Last year I had a chance to listen to the full story of my uncle, from the time he left Vietnam until the moment his sons entered college.

After 1975, like other South Vietnamese people, my uncle chose to leave the country because he was scared of the communists’ invasion from the North. At that time, he had nothing and just got married three months before. He said that he knew his upcoming journey would be a strong risk that he could end his life anytime. He and his wife boarded a small boat of 10 meters filled with nearly 80 people.  Their two outboard motors soon failed and they drifted without power and ran out of food and water. From the third day, Malaysian pirates boarded their boat three times during their 17 day voyage, raped the women on board and killed some of the people, stole all the properties of the refugees, and abducted many men. When their boat sank, fortunately,  hey were rescued by a Malaysian fishing boat and ended up in a refugee camp on the island of Palau Bidong.

In the camp of Palau, there were many other Vietnamese refugees who waited and sought for their asylums. He said the conditions were very bad because this island was far away from other islands and just reached by ships. Water was just 1 litre per day for one person and the food was just rice, canned meat and vegetables. My uncle said many people had to plant their own food because they had many children. The refugees constructed crude shelters from boat timbers, plastic sheeting, flattened tin cans and palm fronds; the sanitation in the crowded conditions was the greatest problem. Many people died due to the problems of health or hunger. After 6 months in the camp, my uncle said that he met for first time with the US team, who interviewed refugees for the resettlement. At that time, his family welcomed their first child- a boy. Thus, they had more difficulties. Day by day, they became more hopeless for their future. Someone who could not stand this situation chose to die That made my uncle sadder. And the happiest day of his life finally came, after nearly 25 months in the Camp as they received an approval letter from the US government to give them the status “refugee” in the US and one month later they moved to the US with other 40 Vietnamese.

Again, in the United States, they were forced to live in a refugee camp, but now the conditions were better. They had better food and accommodation. They joined English classes and if someone had children they would get more food and health care. After 13 months, they were allowed to move to Kansas State to start their new lives in the US. My uncle got a job as a waiter. They later had one more boy and they worked really hard to pay all the bills.

He told me that this journey would be the longest story of his life, in which he saw many things: people died on the sea, in the camps, without food; or just the simple happiness when the new baby was born or when someone got the approval letters. He said that in the camp he learnt a lot about people’s feelings, rights or just their simple dreams. After all, he said that nothing is better than the freedom and freedom is not free, we have to pay for it with an expensive price.

When I spoke to him recently, he said that we are unlucky people; all he could do at that time was just to hope. He was very sad because he had to leave his homeland. No country accepted them to land. He hopes that with the development of social media and the forum of refugees around the world, more and more organizations are trying to help them. He wishes that other refugees can successfully move to their new countries and wish all the best to them as well.

Refugee Day

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