A long, uncertain wait

Planes from all over the world take off and land near one refugee camp in Hong Kong. Boats cruise by another camp on an island in the Hong Kong harbor. The comings and goings are visible to thousands of Vietnamese refugees who are awaiting resettlement overseas and cannot leave. It is a long and uncertain wait. Twelve years after the fall of Saigon, people are still fleeing Vietnam. Many come here, where they are now confined to closed refugee camps. Refugees who arrived in Hong Kong before July 1982 were placed in open camps, which allows them to work in and move to the city. Residents of the closed camps may not leave without supervision.

In all the Hong Kong camps, there are approximately 8,000 Vietnamese refugees waiting for the next phase of their lives to begin. Although the United States is still the most popular country for resettlement, many say they are willing to go anywhere. One Vietnamese man expressed a widespread desire when he said, ``Where there is liberty, that is my country.''

Even closed-camp residents prefer their current living conditions to life in their homeland.

``We know a closed camp is better than in Vietnam,'' says Thich Hue Huu, a Buddhist monk who arrived two years ago. ``There is freedom [here]. We know that once we arrived in a country of freedom, people there would try to help us with our resettlement.... We also have freedom of faith here.'' In Chi Ma Wan camp, Thich Hue Huu is able to hold services for the Vietnamese refugees and practice his religion.

Vietnamese in the open camps of Jubilee and Kai Tak have been in Hong Kong the longest. Despite being able to work or live in the city, they are tired of waiting for resettlement.

A 16-year-old boy, Nguyen Van Thang, whose nickname is Bob, has been at Kai Tak for 4 years. Like most people in Kai Tak, he escaped by boat from northern Vietnam.

``My family decide to leave Vietnam because we are looking for freedom country,'' he says. ``In Vietnam ... they want to take the people to be soldiers, so my family decide to leave.'' Bob attends school every day at the camp and shares a small living space with five other family members.

Pham Son Ha lives with his wife and one-year-old son in Hei Ling Chau closed camp. He and his wife met and married in the camp.

``We are worried, very worried about our future,'' he says. ``Will Hong Kong government send us back to Vietnam? Many worries, because I hear radio, read newspaper.''

In his three years at Hei Ling Chau, Mr. Ha has walked around the island with a staff member, but never gone into the city.

``The fence around our camp make us sad,'' he says. ``I feel discouraged. I have been here a long time and I want to know many things outside of the camp.''

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