Settling a Million Vietnamese Refugees

  • Prosperity
  • 1975

After the fall of South Vietnam, two million people poured out of that country plus Laos and Cambodia, many of them taking desperate risks in fear of their lives, often leaving with nothing but their clothing. Half of those refugees have settled in the U.S. (which has historically sheltered as many displaced persons as all other countries combined). The first wave of “boat people” arrived in 1975, and the Indochina Migration and Refugee Act that was passed in 1975 relied on local voluntarism and small-scale philanthropy to make sure their resettlement was successful. It was mostly churches and some local community organizations that organized food, clothing, and apartments for families as they arrived across the U.S. Each arriving household was paired with one or more volunteer sponsor families, who helped with language and cultural navigation, guided work searches, assisted with driving lessons or procurement of a used car, and provided friendship and support. Many families and churches donated furniture and linens, and groceries for initial weeks and months. This resettlement was not only the largest refugee influx in U.S. history, but one of our most successful. Vietnamese Americans are employed, own homes, and become citizens at a rate higher than most other immigrant groups, partly thanks to the intimate person-to-person charity that was employed to welcome the new arrivals.

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