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Vietnamese boat people no longer at sea

“Thank you Canada. I finally, after a very long journey, have a place to call home,” says Dang Son Vinh…

By Rosemary Keevil-Fairburn , in Immigration , on April 8, 2009 Tags: , , ,

“Thank you Canada. I finally, after a very long journey, have a place to call home,” says Dang Son Vinh in Vietnamese with a tentative smile, as if it may all be but a dream.

A dream come true: Dang has been in Canada for 28 days. It took him 20 years to get here.

Dang Son Vinh and his family arrived in Vancouver in March. Dang escaoped Vietnam in 1989 and has been in The Philippines ever since.
Dang Son Vinh and his family arrived in Vancouver in March after two decades in the Philippines

He was one of the thousand Vietnamese boat refugees who, although surviving a perilous sea escape from Vietnam, ended up in The Philippines, a country that would not give the refugees legal status. Dang has, in effect, been in limbo.

The Vietnamese community here has been lobbying the Canadian government since 2005 to accept some of these stateless people. Over the past year, more than 200 Vietnamese have arrived from The Philippines.

Vancouver has become home to about 25 of these people – some 10 families. Most of the adults have found jobs. They are employed in various fields such as carpentry, gardening, construction, farming, and food processing plants.

Focus of the community

The mass influx of Vietnamese boat people to Canada was in the decade after the fall of Saigon in 1975. There are now 30,000 Vietnamese in Vancouver who have developed a healthy support network.

That often involves the church or the temple. About half of the Vietnamese here are Christian and half are Buddhist.

The Buddhist Hoa Nghiem Temple was one of the sponsors for the new immigrants including the 38 year old Dang, his 39 year old wife and their children.

The temple is their temporary home and provides an instant social life. It is situated at the foot of Royal Oak Road in Burnaby, British Columbia.

This street is a main thoroughfare until it peters out to a bumpy gravel road and comes to an unceremonious end. On one side of the road sits a large, messy construction site, an overflowing dumpster guarding the gated entrance.

A room without a view

That is the view from the front of the temple, itself an unceremonious structure. It is a modest white wood house with an extension out back which serves as the place of worship.

Vietnamese Hoa Nghiem Temple, Burnaby, B.C.
The Hoa Nghiem Temple in Burnaby sponsored some of the new Vietnamese immigrants

Also out back is another dumpster by a mud puddle where a robed young boy searches for tadpoles. Nearby are donated pieces of furniture protected by makeshift canopies.

Chants from the Saturday morning service filter through the covered meeting area. People are mingling, sitting at the round tables, waiting for lunch. Women are scurrying about the kitchen preparing a midday meal.

Dang’s children are scampering around in their donated winter coats adjusting to their new surroundings.

Free at last

“New York Prison, Property of South Bronx” are the words on Dang’s grey hoody. But he is feeling anything but restrained. He has permanent resident status in Canada and is working legally as a gardener for a Vietnamese landscaper.

His eyes light up: “I received my first paycheque for 50 hours work. I make $13 an hour.” He is speaking through interpreter, Stella Nhung Davis, who has worked tirelessly with the recent refugees.

Dang does not expect to ever have anything but menial jobs here as he has never had a formal education. He was not permitted to go to school in Vietnam because his family was discriminated against.

Dang’s father had been a high ranking official in the old regime so was sent to a Communist re-education camp where he died.

Once Dang has a passport, he plans to visit his mother and siblings whom he has not seen since he left in 1989.

Among his other dreams are, “an education for my children. I have so much hope for my children.”

Thank you Canada

A number of the recent arrivals from The Philippines celebrated at a recent gala dinner that the Vietnamese Community of Greater Vancouver hosted to thank Canada for its support.

Ujjal Dosanjh, Member of Parliament for Vancouver South, attended as well as Multiculturalism Minister, Jason Kenney, who spoke to the crowd of over 400 people at the event in Richmond, B.C.

Singer, songwriter, Pham Khai Tuan, performed a song he wrote for the occasion.  “Thank You Canada” was an emotional gesture of gratitude and the crowd was visibly moved. The chorus included this heartfelt message:

“Thank you, the creator of our world. Thank you for loving each other.”