Thursday, October 28, 2021

“We Were They”: Vietnamese Americans Help Afghan Refugees

Westminster, Calif. – In the faces of Afghans desperate to leave their country after the withdrawal of the US military, Thue Do sees his own family, decades ago and thousands of miles away.

A 39-year-old doctor in Seattle, Washington, remembers hearing how his parents sought to leave Saigon in 1975 after Vietnam fell to communist rule and the US military forced out allies in the final hours. After several unsuccessful attempts, it took years for her family to move out of the country, and two sets of dresses a piece and a combined $300 made their way to the United States. When they finally arrived, she was 9 years old.

These stories and early memories inspired Do and her husband, Jesse Robbins, to step forward to help Afghans fleeing their country. The couple have an empty rental house and decided to give it to refugee resettlement groups, who furnished it for newly arrived Afghans in need of a place to live.

“We were those 40 years ago,” Two said. “With the fall of Saigon in 1975, it was us.”

Television images of Afghans vying for spots on US military flights from Kabul brought back memories to many Vietnamese Americans of their efforts to escape a fallen Saigon more than four decades ago. The crisis in Afghanistan has reopened painful wounds for many of the country’s 2 million Vietnamese Americans and prompted some veterans to open up about their harrowing departure to younger generations for the first time.

It has also inspired many Vietnamese Americans to donate money to refugee resettlement groups and to extend a helping hand by providing housing, furniture and legal aid to newly arrived Afghans. Less tangible but still necessary, some also said they wanted to provide important guidance they know refugees and new immigrants need: how to shop at a supermarket, enroll children in school and more in the United States. drive the car.

Since the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese have come to the United States, settling in communities from California to Virginia. Today, Vietnamese Americans are the sixth largest immigrant group in the United States. Many initially settled in Orange County, California after arriving at the nearby Camp Pendleton military base, and today they have a strong voice in local politics.

“We lived through it and we can’t help but feel like we’re brothers in our ordinary experience,” said Andrew Doe, who fled Saigon with his family the day before he fell to communism and today the county Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said during a recent press conference in the area known as “Little Saigon”.

The US had long announced plans to withdraw from Afghanistan after a 20-year war. But the final exit was much more frantic, with an attack on the Kabul airport killing more than 180 Afghans and 13 American service members.

In the last two weeks of August, the US evacuated 31,000 people from Afghanistan, three-quarters of whom were Afghans who supported US military efforts during extensive operations. But many Afghan allies were left behind and under the tight control of the Taliban, there was no clear way out of the country.

Similarly, many Vietnamese Americans remember how they could not get out before Saigon’s imminent collapse of communism. They were left behind and faced long periods in retraining camps in retaliation for their loyalty to the Americans who fought in their country. Once they were allowed to return to their families, many Vietnamese left and took small boats out to sea in hopes of escaping and surviving.

For some families, the journey took years and several failed attempts, which is why many Vietnamese Americans see the US military’s departure from Afghanistan not as the end of the crisis, but as the beginning.

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“We have to remember that now is the time to lay the foundation for a humanitarian crisis that could last until the last US aid leaves Afghan space,” said Than Tan, a Seattle-based filmmaker. Afghans are reaching their homes. He said his own family made the trip four years after the US left Vietnam. “We have to be prepared because people will do whatever it takes to survive.”

Afghans arriving in the United States may have a special status to those who supported American military operations, or may have already been sponsored by relatives to come here. Others are expected to arrive as refugees or seek permission to travel to the United States through a process known as humanitarian parole and apply for asylum or other legal protection while they are here.

For parole, Afghans need the support of a U.S. citizen or legal resident, and some Vietnamese Americans have signed up to sponsor people they’ve never met, according to Fields at the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center. Director Tuen inhJanelle said. He said a coalition of legal and community groups had secured sponsors for 2,000 Afghans seeking parole. His sister, Wya Dinh, said she was sponsoring a family of 10, including women who are at risk for work in medicine and teaching. “As soon as he called, I said, ‘Yeah, I’m in,'” she said.

Other efforts have focused on fundraising for refugee resettlement groups. Vietnamese and Afghan American artists held a benefit concert in Southern California this month to raise money to aid Afghan refugees. According to the Saigon Broadcasting Television Network, the program titled “United for Love” was broadcast on Vietnamese-language television and raised over $160,000.

It also aired on Afghan American satellite television, said Bilal Askyar, an Afghan American lawyer and spokesman for the #WelcomeWithDignity campaign aimed at supporting asylum seekers. “He saw the need. He saw the similarities,” Askar said. “It is really powerful to see that he saw that link of common humanity between the Afghan community and the Vietnamese community. We have been really impressed and inspired.”

Nation World News Desk
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