In Camps: Vietnamese Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Repatriates (Video)



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  • [Music]
  • Hello, thank you so much for being interested in my work and in my book.
  • My name is professor Jana Lipman.
  • I teach US history here at Tulane and I'm really excited because I just published
  • my new book, In Camps: Vietnamese Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Repatriates.
  • And this is a project I've been working on for about a decade.
  • And it tells the story of Vietnamese refugees as they left
  • Vietnam and their experiences in camps in Guam, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and the Philippines.
  • And it really is meant to have us think about why does it matter where refugees land.
  • Does it matter if they land in the Philippines versus Hong Kong? Does it matter when they
  • land, 1975 verses 1989, and what does this mean for the present?
  • And I began thinking about this topic a long time ago now
  • because I came across two really different images.
  • I'll just show them to you quickly.
  • Amazing... technology.
  • So this is my new book to show you there, In Camps.
  • But the image I wanted to talk about is this one.
  • I found this image in the archives, now many years ago,
  • and at first it's not clear what's going on here.
  • This is a group of Vietnamese men, who had left Vietnam in 1975.
  • And before coming to the United States they were all sent to Guam.
  • The vast majority of Vietnamese men came to the United States and resettled.
  • And we have large numbers of Vietnamese in the United States today,
  • many of whom went through Guam in 1975.
  • But a small number of Vietnamese
  • did not want to come to the United States.
  • Instead they wanted to go back to Vietnam.
  • And to me this was really curious.
  • I wanted to know what was going on.
  • Why do they want to go back to Vietnam?
  • What was happening?
  • And here we can see them protesting.
  • The image says: 36 hours hunger strike sit-in quiet hair shaving off.
  • They were protesting on hunger strike to go back to Vietnam.
  • And they do go back eventually in October of 1975
  • and very tragically they're put in reeducation camps in Vietnam
  • sometimes for years on end.
  • Flash forward about 15 years later in 1990
  • and I came across images like this one as I was trying to do my research.
  • This is again a Vietnamese in a refugee camp
  • and like in Guam they're protesting. So again they're protesting in the refugee camp.
  • And I wanted to know why. Why are they protesting?
  • And they are protesting because the
  • Hong Kong government wanted to send them back to Vietnam.
  • These Vietnamese did not want to go back to Vietnam.
  • They did not want to be repatriated.
  • Instead they wanted to come to the United States, or Australia, or Canada.
  • And yet the images, to me, raise lots of questions.
  • What is going on in these camps?
  • Here we have people who are protesting.
  • They're not passive, they are not apolitical,
  • rather they're engaging in political action.
  • Secondly, the things that really changed.
  • In the first image you had individuals who wanted to go back to Vietnam,
  • while in the second image in 1990, you had people who defiantly did not want to go back.
  • What had changed changed over time?
  • And these are the questions that animated my book,
  • and that led me to conduct research in
  • Malaysia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, England, and southern California in Orange County.
  • I was able to go through all sorts of archives, records from refugee camps,
  • I toured many places that were firmly refugee camps.
  • From sort of abandoned buildings to places that
  • are currently parts of the Hong Kong police force, where they still do trainings.
  • And in the end my book has, I would say, two, maybe three main arguments.
  • First, I argue that refugee status is not fixed.
  • It changes over time.
  • So if someone shows up in 1975, they were automatically a refugee.
  • Well if someone was able to land in the same spot 10 years later or 15 years later in 1990,
  • they were no longer necessarily a refugee.
  • This really matters when we think about our refugee policy today.
  • Secondly, where someone ends up mattered a lot.
  • I think when we think about refugees,
  • most people think about where are people fleeing from.
  • In my case, in Vietnam, where are they going to-
  • the United States, Canada, Germany.
  • Where we haven't spent as much time looking as the camps in between,
  • the places in between, where these men and women go before they either get
  • resettled or repatriated.
  • In my work I really argue that it made a huge difference.
  • That the politics of Hong Kong or the politics of the Philippines mattered a great deal.
  • For example, the Philippines as a Catholic country under Ferdinand Marcos,
  • who was a US backed authoritarian leader,
  • wanted to help the United States and be seen as a useful partner.
  • Hong Kong, a British colony, did not feel that compulsion.
  • So it had a much harsher policy vis-à-vis the Vietnamese.
  • So where someone's boat ended up or where someone got to, made a huge difference and
  • if they were able to be a refugee or not.
  • And I think these local politics matter a great deal
  • because they mattered at the international level as well as at the local level.
  • Finally, activism.
  • I'm very proud of the fact- I don't think I used the word "plight of the refugee"
  • anywhere in the book, at least I hope not.
  • But in a lot of the literature on refugees,
  • refugees are seen as passive, apolitical, abject, unable to shape their futures,
  • just grateful and thankful for having been saved.
  • And in my research I show that this really is not generally the case.
  • People leave countries for political reasons and then in the camps
  • they engage in active political protest.
  • Some of the times this was radical.
  • Whether it's getting your head shaved and being on a hunger strike
  • to sometimes engaging in acts of violence,
  • other times it was less radical but still useful and assertive,
  • creating networks in Vietnamese diaspora communities whether in
  • United States, or in England, or Australia.
  • Other times writing letters to policy makers,
  • and actively lobbying governments are using allies in host countries to lobby
  • governments for better policies.
  • And so I argue and look at the ways in which the individuals
  • in the camps were actively involved in these types of protests and events to improve their
  • status and to get what they wanted, whether it was repatriation in 1975
  • or mostly afterwards, better conditions in the camps
  • and easier access and refugee status in an English speaking country.
  • I think my book has lots to tell us about refugee politics today.
  • Both the ways in which governments have acted to keep people out,
  • the ways in which governments have turned to camps to deter people,
  • and the ways in which people in the camps and their advocates continue
  • to advocate for better sort of asylum status, for more fairness, for more justice,
  • and for more humanity for refugees throughout the world.
  • So thank you very much and my book is called In Camps.
  • [Music]