VIETNAMESE BOAT PEOPLE



On May 27, 1978, the day after my Leatherback Turtle adventure, two girls I had met in the guesthouse, Jan Schoelhorn Julie and I continued driving northward along the South China Sea coast taking tar pollution profiles as follows:
(units are gm-2
= grams/square meter)

Rantau Abang: 3.6 - Merchang: 8.0 - Batu Rakit: 0.3
The last part of the road was through pleasant lowland littoral and ended at a rocky promontary named Kampung Merang. There was a ridge along the coast from which a crowd of people was looking at the scene on the beach below: several soldiers with rifles and a group of people in the water. First, when we heard the people starting to laugh, Jan surmised that the people in the water were male swimmers who objected to having "white" girls get too close to them.
But it was more serious than that, I found out when I walked toward the scene: the soldiers were actually threatening to shoot any of the people trying to get out of the water. Two of the people in the water started shouting at me in French that they were Vietnamese refugees who had jumped from their boat - which had now disappeared - and that they had been without food and drink for two days.


Boat People Demonstration-1979a


  • Charon's Boat
  • Vietnamese Boat People
    Demonstration-1979b

  • Vietnamese Refugees

  • I walked up to the lieutenant in charge who mumbled something like: "Please do not interfere."
    "No," I said, "I am not interfering, but I am with the United Nations and request that you let these people come ashore immediately. I hope you understand that if you do not act more humanitarian it will cause bad publicity when I report to the Embassy."
    He grudgingly waved to his men to let the people come ashore, which they did. One woman was highly pregnant, a young girl was in shock, and a man told me that his teenage daughter had been forcibly removed from their full boat after it was boarded by Thai Coastguard or Police.
    The lieutenant tried to regain some face soon after Jan and Julie joined us, and said we were not allowed on this "restricted" beach. I told him I was involved in research but would nevertheless comply with his request. I trusted him to take good care of these refugees.
    When I walked away, one of the soldiers told me that there was a refugee camp nearby which was full: 5,000 people. That's probably why the lieutenant did not allow more people, he added.
    I did not like the change in attitude of the onlookers which we sensed and decide to get the two girls in the car and drive on. But first I walked back to the lieutenant, thanked him once again for his courtesy, and profusely praised his understanding and humanitarianism. As a fellow military officer, he would understand that I would help him in the same way if he were in similar trouble as the Vietnamese were. He would , of course, as an officer and gentleman, do the same for me. "Terimah kasih, selamat tinggal!" 'Ma'a Salaam!"
    It was a great relief being back on the road again.
    Later that evening I wrote a letter to my PA Congressman, Robert Walker, and a few months later I was surprised to read that the US Government had changed their policy and would from now on rescue Vietnamese refugees (Boat People) found on the South China Sea.
    Vietnamese in the USA, 2000 - BLO fecit 20060514 - stories