US opens doors to Amerasians

SPURNED in their homeland and facing an uncertain future in a country they've never seen, thousands of Amerasian children, their mothers, and siblings are waiting for permission to enter the United States.

Leo Dorsey, one of only three Americans allowed in Vietnam to interview Vietnamese seeking departure to the US, describes their plight: ''I got a sense they were much more desperate than the ordinary refugee to leave the country because of the discrimination they experienced,'' he explains. ''It was a very difficult struggle for these families.''

In a highly nationalistic country, the mothers of Amerasian children are snubbed because of their association with non-Vietnamese. The children, many of whom are teen-agers, are harassed by their peers. Most drop out of school and are unable to find jobs.

On the US side, the door is wide open for all children fathered by American servicemen. For its part, the Vietnamese government is gearing up to increase the numbers of Amerasians leaving the country, says Mr. Dorsey. There are about 20,000 known Amerasian children currently in Vietnam, and Vietnamese officials have asked the US to set up a special center in Ho Chi Minh City so they can bring Amerasian children in from the provinces until their exit visas can be processed.

With planeloads of Amerasian families arriving every day, the challenge lies in providing them with the skills and knowledge they need to function on their own. Mr. Dorsey estimates less than 2 percent of the Amerasian families are reunited with their American fathers.

''We recognize that these people come (to the US) with different needs than the ordinary refugee,'' he says. ''Because the numbers of Amerasians arriving in this country are increasing, it's important that we begin to develop unique programs for them.''

In addition to the primary needs of English language training and cultural orientation, Mr. Dorsey suggests adding a counseling component to help them deal with any lingering emotional problems. Specialized job training is also an important element, since the mothers, for the most part, come with very limited skills and in some cases are illiterate. (Most Indochinese refugees come with previous job experience.)

To deal with this group, communities need additional support systems, he says. One step would be to provide a halfway-house arrangement for about three months instead of placing the mothers and their children directly into communities to try to make it on their own.

He also believes the resettlement agencies responsible for handling Amerasians should receive greater support from the State Department for the amount of staff required to help resettle these families.

''It takes longer to resettle Amerasians than it does ordinary refugees because of the scars they come with,'' Mr. Dorsey says. At the same time, he adds, these families ''come with a fair degree of strength, since they've had to manipulate through a difficult system in Vietnam. They come with the potential for very successful resettlement.''

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