Thousands died at sea of dehydration and drowning while others experienced terrifying pirate attacks and rape.
Escapees left in secret, often after numerous attempts and great expense. They risked jail and re-education camps if caught. Often people couldn’t even say goodbye to family for fear of informers sabotaging their plans.
At first, Southern government employees left by US boats and planes. Later as relations between China and Vietnam soured, many Chinese-Vietnamese, whose families had lived in Vietnam for generations, were virtually pushed out of Vietnam. Some left by foot or vehicle for Cambodia or China. Others escaped on small overcrowded fishing boats, with inadequate equipment, fuel and water. Thousands died at sea of dehydration and drowning, while others experienced terrifying pirate attacks and rape. Survivors reached Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong. Rough and ready refugee camps emerged in South East Asia after 1975. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provided some food and equipment and started processing people's requests for resettlement. Camp experiences were marked by waiting, boredom, anxiety, distress over relatives left behind and attempts to find work. Networks and communities formed as people linked up to try to take control of day to day conditions.
The arrival of Vietnamese refugees signalled the end of the infamous White Australia policy, and was accompanied by much debate.
The arrival of Vietnamese refugees forced changes in migration policy around the world, especially in Australia, which was pressured by ASEAN to accept more refugees after 1978. Very few refugees were accepted by Australia at first. The arrival of Vietnamese refugees signalled the end of the infamous White Australia policy, and was accompanied by much debate.
Some arrived by boat on Australia's northern coast and were dubbed 'boat people' by the press: an insult which ignored the severe hardships they had faced. By the late 1980s there were fewer arrivals, as it became more difficult to leave Vietnam and several countries reduced the numbers of people allowed to stay. As camps closed from 1996 onwards, forced repatriations to Vietnam have occurred.
In Australia, most people arriving from Vietnam have been accepted through family reunion programs.
In Australia, most people arriving from Vietnam have been accepted through family reunion programs. Other people have migrated from the north, again a difficult decision - often for education and work prospects.