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Last Updated: Friday, 29 October, 2004, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Vietnam's new UK migrants

By Nga Pham
BBC Vietnamese service

Vietnam became synonymous with refugee movements in the 1970s when the 'boat people' fled political violence and established communities throughout the world. But Vietnamese are again on the move - with more coming to the UK than in recent years. Nguyen Van Thang arrived in the United Kingdom three years ago from Hanoi.

It took Mr Thang [not his real name] just a day to fly to a third country, but more than a month to reach Britain, first by plane and then by train.

He said he had submitted his asylum application to the UK Home Office, but he had yet to receive a response.

Houses of Parliament in London, archive picture
Thousands of Vietnamese want to start a new life in the UK
Mr Thang said he had decided to leave Vietnam after his parents were shot dead by the police in Quang Ninh province, for trying to escape from the country by boat.

Another asylum seeker from Vietnam said she had travelled to the UK via China and then Russia.

The smugglers put her and her daughter on a covered truck, and they spent two and a half months on the road, all the while fearing for their lives.

The mother and daughter are currently living off their last savings.

They have already had their asylum applications refused by the Home Office.

'Few genuine cases'

Thousands of Vietnamese asylum seekers are currently in the UK, and their numbers are increasing.

In 2003, the Home Office received more than 1,100 asylums claims from Vietnamese citizens, but only "very few of these were found to be genuine", according to UK Immigration Minister Des Browne.

Mr Browne was in Hanoi this week to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Vietnamese government, which sets a future framework for co-operation on migration issues.

I sold everything to get US$10,000 to pay the people who got me to England. So I will just stay here and wait
Vietnamese woman in the UK
The two sides have agreed to work together to dismantle criminal gangs responsible for trafficking and facilitating illegal migration, and to work out a mechanism for the swift return of illegal migrants.

In the future there is a possibility that immigration officers from Vietnam will be despatched to Britain to assist with the processing of asylum claims, as well as to identify illegal migrants.

On arrival in the UK, most of these migrants get rid of their passports or have them seized by traffickers, in the hope that they cannot be sent away if they have no travel documents.

With Hanoi agreeing to help with identification and re-documentation of Vietnamese nationals, the Home Office hopes it will now be easier to facilitate their return.

But Vu Khanh Thanh, president of the An Viet Foundation, a charity that has been helping Vietnamese refugees in Britain since the 1980s, said the identification process could well be more complicated than it first appears.

"All of the illegal migrants have changed their names, their ages, their personal details. When checked by the Vietnamese police, their details prove to be incorrect, so the Vietnamese government can refuse to take them back," he said.

Besides, the number of asylum claims in the UK represents only a fraction of the real number of Vietnamese nationals living illegally in the country.

Most of them choose to hide away, making their living by working for Vietnamese businesses such as restaurants and shops.

"I do cleaning and washing for those who hire me," said a woman who was smuggled into the UK eight months ago.

"It is not better than Vietnam and I still don't know what will happen to me."

"But I don't want to go back. There's nothing left there for me. I sold everything to get US$10,000 to pay the people who got me to England," she said.

"So I will just stay here and wait."

Vietnam refugees emerge from hiding
21 Jul 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Vietnam
24 May 03 |  Country profiles


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