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Vietnamese Migration to Canada As a Template for Refugee Settlement

The settlement of Vietnamese refugees in Canada after the Vietnam War should be a blueprint for how nations should settle migrants from other cultures.

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Alexander Robak | Canada

Following the conclusion of the Vietnam war and other military conflicts in South-East Asia, many refugees fled from their war-torn nations, and eventually settled in western countries such as the United States and Canada. These mass migrations reached their peak during the late 1970s but continued on through the 1980s. These refugees came to be known as “Vietnamese boat people” due to the fact that they fled their native country on boats and rafts. Following their departure from Vietnam by sea, hundreds of thousands of migrants were put into refugee resettlement camps in other South-East Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, and Hong Kong. Once in these camps, the refugees then dispersed into developed Western nations such as the United States, Australia, and Canada for permanent resettlement. The ways in which these refugees were resettled into Canada and other western nations were extremely successful and should be used as a template for resettling refugees in the future.

In Canada, the main method that was used to resettle migrant families following the Vietnam war was to set up a program of host families. With this program in place, Canadian households were able to voluntarily sponsor refugee families coming to Canada, and allow them to live in their household for a certain time. What resulted from this program was a grace period that allowed settling refugees to adapt to the Canadian style of life with their host families helping them, after which they would be put into Canadian society to thrive on their own. This grace period system was effective at allowing new Canadians to adjust to a way of life that is founded on the ideas of tolerance, respect, and freedom. This is in contrast to the country that they were fleeing, which was ruled by an authoritarian communist government that did nothing but crush these principles in favor of conformity and collectivism.

Before continuing with this analysis of a mass migration into Canada,  it is essential that the principles that Canada was founded upon are understood. These four principles are freedom, equality, tolerance, and respect. It is important that when introducing a group of migrants into Canadian society, the forces responsible for this migration are absolutely sure that this group of migrants is able and willing to comply with this standard set of values. Not only are these the values that have made Canada what it is today, but these are the values that differentiate the western world from the rest of the world. This mindset is not a modern idea and has existed since the beginnings of mass migration on a global scale. We can and should use this system as a sober second thought when considering mass migration into the western world from non-western nations. When the government of Canada accepted 50,000 Vietnamese refugees into Canada following the Vietnam war, those responsible were aware that these migrants were willing and able to comply with Canadian values.

It is crucial to the analysis of this migration that some background information on the cause of this refugee crisis is given. To summarize, the North Vietnamese communist forces were able to overtake the southern portion of the country in a bloody war that lasted from 1955 to 1975. The Northern communists were supported by the Soviet Union, and many Eastern Bloc countries including Czechoslovakia, Poland, and East Germany. On the opposing side, the Capitalist southern government was supported by superpowers such as the United States, Canada, and Australia. The explicit or covert involvement of major world powers means that this war was a proxy war. Both sides were supported by opposing superpowers fighting over control of an area. The war ended with the fall of Saigon in 1975 to the communist forces of Ho Chi Minh. What resulted was the continued persecution of capitalists and dissidents to the new authoritarian government. Many of those who fled Vietnam to escape persecution were South Vietnamese capitalists, who believed in the principles of freedom, equality, tolerance, and respect.

The Vietnamese people brought a factor to Canadian society that was extremely important and beneficial to the society at large. This factor was their entrepreneurship. Following the integration of these refugees into Canada, many of them set up their own small businesses, which were important to the growth of the Canadian economy. It was in this instance that the Vietnamese people’s entrepreneurial spirit showed us that they were important to Canada as a whole, and were worthy Canadians.

Upon the arrival of these refugees into Canada, they were generally well respected among Canadians for their hard-working attitude and willingness to integrate into Canadian society. A big part of the settlement of these refugees into Canada was their ability to maintain traditional Vietnamese culture, while also adopting the culture of their new home. In contrast to many refugee groups in the modern era, these Vietnamese migrants did not demand that Canadian society make accommodations for them and their culture. Rather, they were thankful that Canadians had allowed them to take refuge in their country. This was a very important factor concerning the settlement of these refugees into Canada.

Another part of the settlement of these refugees into their new home was the fact that they were only brought in if Canada was able to support them. These refugees were dependent on the goodwill of the Canadian people to support them, as they migrated into a completely unfamiliar land. The system created helped Vietnamese migrants to settle in Canada and be financially and socially secure.

The Vietnamese were successfully brought into a society in which they had no experience, and within a short span of time, had become productive members of society. This can be compared to the modern Syrian refugee crisis, where many were pushed out of their country out of fear of persecution during a civil war. However, the government handled this refugee crisis completely differently from the one that proved to be successful in the past. Rather than allowing Canadian families to sponsor refugee families, the Canadian government brought in more refugees than could be handled, and as a result, they were not properly assimilated into Canadian society. As a result of this mismanagement, rather than having a support system that integrates refugees into Canada, these refugees were simply put into the whole of Canadian society and expected to prosper on their own. The exact opposite has happened. The unemployment rate for Syrian refugees is astronomically high in comparison to the rest of Canada, and many of them wish for Canada to conform to their culture, rather than the other way around. In the case of the Vietnamese refugees, they were thankful to the Canadian people for supporting them in a time of need and were willing to conform to Canadian culture, customs, and values if need be, while also maintaining their own heritage. It is entirely debatable whether or not the same can be said for the Syrian refugee crisis.

It can be seen that the Vietnamese people who took refuge in Canada, fleeing communist persecution were properly integrated into Canadian society in a way that proved to be beneficial to all parties involved. The support system of using Canadian families to sponsor Vietnamese refugee families proved to be a great system that allowed refugee families to integrate into Canadian society at large, before being put into the country to survive on their own, with no support whatsoever. Seeing as this system has proved itself to be a more than adequate method of integrating refugees from a war-torn country into Canadian society,t is crucial that this system is used in the future to properly integrate refugees, rather than through mismanagement and supporting more than can be handled.


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