2021-10-04 00:16:19 Vietnamese Americans Mobilize to Welcome Afghan Refugees

Vietnamese Americans Mobilize to Welcome Afghan Refugees

Uyen Nguyen trudged through a grassy marshland with her mother and three siblings in the middle of the night until they reached the edge of the ocean, where a small, dilapidated fishing boat was beached on the sand. It took off with 31 people on board.

It was 1985, a decade after the fall of Saigon, and their final attempt to flee Vietnam. The boat’s engine sputtered out a few days later, leaving the passengers stranded at sea for about a month and forcing them to catch rainwater to survive. Ten people were killed, including Ms. Nguyen’s mother and two siblings. Ms. Nguyen, 10, and her 15-year-old brother were among those rescued by fishermen and taken to a refugee camp in the Philippines.

Ms. Nguyen was inspired to flee after seeing images of Afghans crammed on US military planes in August, desperate to flee a country devastated by a decades-long war. The unmistakable parallels, she claims, have compelled her to assist Afghans in similar situations to her own.

“We can’t just sit back, especially since we’re either refugees or children of refugees,” said Ms. Nguyen, 46, a Seattle entrepreneur who immigrated to the United States as an unaccompanied minor with her brother. “I don’t see any other option than to do something.”

Ms. Nguyen texted a group of friends one day after the Afghan government collapsed, proposing the formation of an organization to recruit Vietnamese American families to house the Afghans pouring into the Seattle area. The five friends established Viets4Afghans, with the initial goal of enlisting 75 families — a nod to the year Saigon fell. Over 100 people have volunteered.

Thanh Tan, a journalist and filmmaker in Seattle who helped found the group, said her father, a South Vietnamese officer, decided to leave Vietnam after spending six months in a re-education camp following the war’s end. He, like other American allies, was targeted for retaliation. In October 1978, he escaped by boat, making it to Malaysia before arriving in Olympia, Washington.

Ms. Tan’s parents would frequently tell her stories about the Americans who assisted them in finding work and relocating. Some made friends with her parents, inviting them to their homes and offering them food. Vietnamese people who had previously resettled in America also assisted her father in finding work cleaning restaurants and schools while he attended community college.

Her organization now hopes to do the same for Afghans who arrive in the country with few belongings or relatives. Although Ms. Tan acknowledged that there are significant differences between the two wars, she stated that the refugees shared a common experience.

“We understand what Afghans are going through in a way that very few others can,” she explained.

Thuy Do, 39, a family physician, and her husband, Jesse Robbins, 39, a self-defense instructor, are among those hosting refugees in a second home they own in Seattle.

Abdul Matin Qadiri, 46, the father of one of them, said he, his wife, and four children had recently moved into that house. Mr. Qadiri stated that Ms. Do and Mr. Robbins had stopped by to spend time with them, bringing items such as a teapot and a television.

“We are overjoyed and overjoyed,” Mr. Qadiri said through a translator.

Ms. Do, who fled Vietnam with her family in 1991, said they found refuge in the United States with a distant relative and a family friend for a few weeks.

“It feels good to pay it forward a little,” Ms. Do said.

It’s unclear how many Vietnamese Americans are welcoming Afghan evacuees, but Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in Baltimore, estimates that hundreds of Vietnamese Americans have contacted the organization and volunteered to host or sponsor Afghan refugees.

“I see it all the time,” she said. “Those who have received this work want to provide it to others.”

Tram Ho was instrumental in furnishing Abdul Aman Sediqi’s apartment after he arrived in Houston with his wife and two sons on August 16 after fleeing Kabul.

They first met at a Walmart, where Ms. Ho and her family assisted in the selection of plates and kitchen utensils, as well as Superman-themed clothing for Mr. Sediqi’s two sons, ages one and three. Sanya Wafeq, Mr. Sediqi’s case manager at the Y.M.C.A. International, helped the two families communicate.

Mr. Sediqi initially didn’t understand why Ms. Ho wanted to buy items for his family. But when she told him she was a Vietnamese refugee, he said he understood.

“That family went through the same thing we did, leaving everything behind,” he said in an interview translated by his case manager.

Ms. Ho, 52, a doctor who fled Vietnam when she was 12 years old, said she assured Mr. Sediqi that his family, like hers, would eventually adjust to life in America.

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Vietnamese Americans Mobilize to Welcome Afghan Refugees