Project Freedom at Last

PRESS RELEASE

First three of 100 Vietnamese refugee families stranded
in the Philippines for almost 20 years arriving 
in Calgary and Vancouver

Three Vietnamese refugee families will finally arrive in Canada to begin their new lives after being stranded in the Philippines for almost 20 years: one family in Calgary on March 6, and two families in Vancouver on March 7.

Following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, an estimated million and a half people fled the newly established Communist regime in Vietnam, mostly by the sea, in small leaky boats, to neighbouring countries. About half a million of these people never made it to the shore of freedom, having perished at sea, due to starvation or drowning in the rough, treacherous South China Sea, or having been killed by pirates. Among those lucky enough to survive this ordeal, about one hundred families remain stranded in the Philippines because no country wanted to accept them.

On May 10, 2007, after 5 years of working with lawyer Hoi Trinh, a Vietnamese-Australian refugee rights advocate, and the SOS VietPhi Refugee Support Group, the Vietnamese Canadian Federation succeeded in obtaining a special arrangement with the federal government, whereby the government would facilitate the immigration of these people based on humanitarian and compassionate consideration. Those who do not qualify for admission to Canada under either the Family Class or the Federal Skilled Worker Class would be assessed based on this consideration.

Following this arrangement, the Vietnamese Canadian Federation established Project Freedom at Last and worked with VOICE (Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment), a non-profit and charitable organization with offices in Washington, D.C., and Manila, and other Vietnamese – Canadian organizations, to assist these refugees with their application process and their resettlement in Canada.

So far, over $500,000 has been raised in Canada, the U.S., and Australia, and 41 community supported groups formed across the country to help these refugees rebuild their lives. At present, 24 families and individuals have been issued entry visas and three first families will arrive this week: one, sponsored by their relatives, will resettle in Calgary and the other two supported by the Hoa Nghiem Buddhist Temple in Vancouver.

Mr. Ed Komarniki, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, will be on hand to greet the two families arriving inVancouver, on behalf of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Diane Finley.

“Our government and our Prime Minister support the Vietnamese community in Canada and we are pleased to welcome these Vietnamese families to our country,” said Minister Finley. “We would also like to commend the Vietnamese Canadian Federation for their efforts to organize community support across Canada.”

On behalf of the Vietnamese community in Canada and elsewhere, the Vietnamese Canadian Federation wishes to thank all those who have helped make this happen. Special thanks are extended to Minister Finley, Members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration under the current and previous Parliaments for their continuing support, and to all those who have made generous financial contributions to Project Freedom at Last.

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For immediate release: March 6, 2008
Can D. Le
General Coordinator, Project Freedom at Last
Vietnamese Canadian Federation
Tel. (613) 230-8282

Vietnamese families given ‘chance to rebuild their lives’ in Ottawa

Jessey Bird (jbird@thecitizen.canwest.com), Ottawa Citizen

Published: Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ottawa – Just after 11 p.m. Thursday night, Loan Thi Le stood at the bottom of the arrival escalator at the Ottawa International Airport. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she clutched a tissue and waited. She hadn’t seen her sister in nearly 20 years. The first of several Vietnamese families moving to Ottawa arrived late last night, after nearly two decades of living in limbo in the Philippines. Nhan Thanh Nguyen, 55, and his wife, Hue Thi Le, 46, descended the escalator right on time, where they were greeted by a group of anxious and excited members of Ottawa’s Vietnamese community. Loan Thi Le, who travelled from Los Angeles to greet her family, raced in to Hue Thi Le’s arms, before she even had the chance to step off the stairs. “I’m very, very, happy,” said Loan Thi Le, breaking in to sobs. “This is my sister.”

“This is a chance to rebuild their lives,” said Can D. Le, national co-ordinator of the Vietnamese Canadian Federation’s project Freedom at Last. Canada recently granted stateless Vietnamese people living in the Philippines permanent entry on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese fled, mainly by boat, with many arriving in the Philippines. Though a number were able to settle in other countries, those who remained in the Philippines were considered stateless.

Freedom at Last has raised more than $500,000 to support families immigrating to Canada as well as the United States and Australia. In March, families began to arrive in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. “They had no status,” said Can D. Le. “They were not allowed to work, their children were not allowed to go to school, so many had to get by by buying and selling things illegally.” “They live on a day-to-day basis without hope,” he said. Haquyen Nguyen has lived in Canada since 1981. Though she has never met the family, she decided to make it her mission to help. Her organization, Ottawa Friends, is one of 41 across the country taking part in Freedom at Last. She rallied 19 people to raise enough money to grant the family of six a fully furnished rental unit in Kanata, as well as job opportunities the minute they are settled and ready to work.

In their years in the Philippines, Hue Thi Le was the only one to find employment, said Haquyen Nguyen. For the last several years, she worked as a chef for the non-profit group VOICE (Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment). Established in 1997 in Manila, the group has assisted thousands of stateless Vietnamese in the Philippines. While Hue Thi Le could afford to send her children to school, they would not receive any official certification because of their lack of status. “The whole family lived in one room,” said 22-year-old Vi Hoai Nguyen, a 22-year-old Ottawa resident who travelled to Manila to volunteer with VOICE in late 2007. “They had two big mattresses on the floor, and that was all that they had.”

“We are going to support this family,” said Haquyen Nguyen, adding that her husband fled Vietnam by boat in 1975. He was then stranded in Hong Kong for several months, until a Canadian family sponsored him and brought him to Toronto. “He really appreciated what those people did for him,” said Haquyen Nguyen. “So we think since Canadians can do that … why can’t we help our own people?” “They have been waiting 20 years,” said Can D. Le. “Their situation was so hopeless before, and they didn’t know what was going to happen to them.” “I am really touched by everyone that is here to support us,” said Hue Thi Le, through a translator. “For many years I was a street vendor and it was really difficult, because my children, after school, would have to help me sell things on the streets,” she said, in tears. “I am really happy to have freedom after so many years.”

The federal government accepted 89 applications based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, representing 160 stateless Vietnamese, said Danielle Norris, spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada. So far, only one application has been denied, and they are expecting the arrival of 159 people in the coming months. “This is something that is important to the government,” said Ms. Norris. “Let’s say you live in Canada and you don’t have Canadian citizenship,” she said. “You don’t have health care, you can’t go to school, and getting a job is difficult.” “It is really not a way to live.”

Vietnamese families finally find homes

PRESS RELEASE

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.”

jyang[at]thejournal.canwest.com

© The Edmonton Journal 2008