onsdag 4. mai 2022

When the Boat People Came to Hong Kong

Les Bird still recalls his first encounter with the Vietnamese boat people. The year was 1977, and the Englishman was out patrolling with Hong Kong’s marine police force. In the distance, he saw a cluster of small, rickety boats chugging toward him. Each was crammed with 20 or 30 people. They had sailed over 1,000 kilometers on the barely-seaworthy vessels, fleeing poverty, war, and political repression in Southeast Asia. Bird was dumbstruck.

“It was very surreal,” he tells Sixth Tone. “These first people — many of them families — were coming directly across the South China Sea. The journey was long, so they were malnourished and very dehydrated.”

It was the beginning of a wave of migration that would upend countless lives. As the North Vietnamese army finally conquered the South, vast numbers of refugees took to the sea in the hope of finding sanctuary in Hong Kong, which was then under British rule. Nearly 200,000 Vietnamese would seek asylum in the city over the following years. Thousands more died trying to make the journey.