Local association sponsors refugees after
nearly 20 years stranded in the Philippines
Jennifer Yang, The Edmonton Journal
Published: 1:31 am
EDMONTON – Nearly two decades after they climbed into boats on the coast of Vietnam and pushed off for freedom, three families found a new home Wednesday in Canada.
After escaping persecution at the hands of Vietnam’s Communist regime, they had been living in the Philippines without status for up to 20 years.
“I feel like my dream really has come true,” said Vinh Luong, moments after stepping off the airplane with his wife and eight-year-old son. “It has been 20 years and this is the only date I’ve been waiting for.”Luong’s family were among the millions of so-called Vietnamese “boat people,” many of whom landed in the Philippines. Some were able to move on and find citizenship in new countries, but 2,500 became stranded when camps were shut down and refugee screening procedures tightened.
The Philippines government allowed them to stay, but only as stateless people.
“It’s like they have been on this boat for 18 years and they’ve finally found a harbour,” said Lisa Nguyen, executive director of VOICE, a non-profit organization that worked with the Vietnamese Canadian Federation to bring families to Canada.
“It’s incredible. It really is incredible.”
VOICE has been helping stateless Vietnamese people find new homes in recent years, and has resettled 2,300 in Australia, Norway and the United States. In 2005, the Canadian government announced a program to help them move here, as long as they had a Canadian sponsor.
For Luong and the other families, their sponsor was Edmonton’s Vietnamese community.
Despite a five-hour flight delay, members of the Edmonton Viets’ Association and Truc Lam monastery anxiously awaited Wednesday at the International Airport, clutching Canada flags and big yellow signs that read Freedom at Last! Welcome to Edmonton.
“They’ve been looking for a place to settle down,” said Edmontonian Dan Ngo, who came to Canada as a boat person in 1986. “It was harsh for them because they could not see their future.”
Edmonton’s Vietnamese community raised nearly $50,000 through fundraisers and dinners. They want to bring at least five more families from the Philippines.
Vietnamese businesses in Edmonton have already lined up jobs for some of Wednesday’s arrivals, who will live temporarily at Truc Lam monastery.
For Ngo, it is only right that the Edmonton community should throw them a lifeline.
“It’s our Canadian duty to help another immigrant,” Ngo said. “To be here to see them, it’s like deja vu when I put my first step on Canadian soil.”
© The Edmonton Journal 2008