The Vietnamese Boat People (VBP) Oral History Project was originally envisioned by a group of former members of the Hong Kong Government civil servants whom, at different times and stages in their professional careers, been involved in the herculean effort of dealing with the influx of Vietnamese people who came to Hong Kong.
The VBP influx started in May 1975 with the first shipload on board the S.S. Clara Maersk; it carried on until well into the 1990s. At the height of arrivals, in mid-1979, they were coming in at the rate of a thousand per day, with over 68,000 people reaching Hong Kong.
The tasks included: receiving, landing, documenting, verifying identities, housing, feeding, giving proper medical care, providing a degree of basic education for the children, liaising with international organisations such as UNHCR and the ICEM (later IOM) as well as the principal resettlement countries fell almost entirely on Hong Kong.
Despite the pressure on public services, Hong Kong responded magnificently and in a humane way. Many of these Vietnamese were resettled elsewhere, where they and their next generation now prosper in safety and dignity. Their stories deserve to be told; Hong Kong has every reason to be proud of its achievements.
As time went by a flood of genuine refugees from Vietnam turned into a flood of economic migrants. Most of them had no claim to refugee status, and thus no prospect of overseas resettlement; they had to be returned to Vietnam. While they were detained pending repatriation, a great many troubles were caused which had to be dealt with by the disciplinary services of the government with great restraint and in the best tradition of inter-service cooperation. Such achievements deserve recognition.
The VBP influx is now a thing of the past and memories will soon fade if history is not recorded. It is with this objective in mind that the VBP Oral History Project was started. We recognise that the most urgent task, and the key to proper historical research, is the building up of a database of the experiences of all those who had been involved in the exodus, both those Vietnamese who ended up on our shore as well as those who had to take care of them professionally from all walks of life.
Given the efficacy and prevalence of the Internet, the most effective approach to building up such a database is to establish a website online, so that those who wish to contribute with their recollections can respond to the initiative by writing in with their stories. We invite everyone to do so, on the understanding that their contributions may be used by anyone in the future for historical research purposes.
In order to build some content for the website so as to stimulate contributions, a number of face to face interviews of some key personalities involved in the VBP saga were carried out, principally by two academic researchers: Ms Carina Hoang (based in Australia) and Ms Joyce Ho (based in Hong Kong). Carina is also responsible for the establishment of the website, including its presentation and content which was generated from research and the interviews.
Carina, the primary interviewer, is a former Vietnamese refugee and award-winning author and publisher of the book ‘Boat People – Personal Stories from the Vietnamese Exodus 1975 – 1996’.