“We were them”: Americans of Vietnamese descent help Afghan refugees

WESTMINSTER, Calif. (AP) – Facing Afghans desperate to leave their country after the withdrawal of US forces, Thuy Do sees his own family decades earlier and thousands of miles away.

A 39-year-old doctor in Seattle, Washington, Do recalls hearing how his parents sought to leave Saigon after Vietnam fell under communist rule in 1975 and the US military airlifted its allies in the last hours. . It took her family years to finally leave the country, after several unsuccessful attempts, and make it to the United States, taking two sets of clothes per piece and $ 300 combined. When they finally arrived, she was 9 years old.

These stories and early memories prompted Do and her husband Jesse Robbins to reach out to help Afghans who are now fleeing their country. The couple have a vacant rental home and have decided to donate it to refugee resettlement groups, who have provided it to newly arrived Afghans in need of a place to stay.

“We were them 40 years ago,” Do said. “With the fall of Saigon in 1975, that was us.”

TV footage of Afghans vying for places on US military flights out of Kabul has brought back memories for many Americans of Vietnamese descent of their own attempts to escape a plummeting Saigon more than four decades ago. decades. The crisis in Afghanistan has reopened painful wounds for many of the country’s 2 million Vietnamese Americans and prompted some seniors to open up for the first time about their heartbreaking departures to younger generations.

It has also prompted many Americans of Vietnamese descent to donate money to refugee resettlement groups and to raise their hands to help by providing housing, furniture and legal assistance to newly arrived Afghans. Less tangible but still essential, some have also said they want to offer essential advice that they know refugees and new immigrants need: how to shop in a supermarket, enroll children in school and drive a car in the States. United.

Since the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese have come to the United States, settling in communities from California to Virginia. Today, Americans of Vietnamese descent are the sixth largest immigrant group in the United States. Many settled in Orange County, California after initially arriving at the nearby Camp Pendleton military base and today have a strong voice in local politics.

“We have been through this and we cannot help but feel that we are brothers in our common experience,” said Andrew Do, who fled Saigon with his family a day before he fell under communism and now chairs the county supervisory board. a recent press conference in the area known as “Little Saigon”.

The United States had long announced its intention to withdraw from Afghanistan after a 20-year war. But the final exit was much more frantic, with more than 180 Afghans and 13 US servicemen killed in an attack on Kabul airport.

During the last two weeks of August, the United States evacuated 31,000 people from Afghanistan, three-quarters of whom are Afghans who have supported American military efforts during the large-scale operations. But many Afghan allies have been left behind with no clear way out of the landlocked nation under strict Taliban control.

Likewise, many Americans of Vietnamese descent remember that they couldn’t get out until Saigon’s looming fall to communism. They stayed behind and faced long stays in re-education camps in retaliation for their allegiance to Americans who had fought in their country. Once allowed to return to their families, many Vietnamese left and took small boats out to sea, hoping to escape and survive.

For some families, the journey took years and many unsuccessful attempts, which is why many Americans of Vietnamese descent view the departure of the US military from Afghanistan not as the end of the crisis, but as the end of the crisis. start.

“We must remember that the time has come to lay the groundwork for a humanitarian crisis that could last well beyond the time when the last American aid leaves Afghan space,” said Thanh Tan, a Seattle filmmaker who created a group for Americans of Vietnamese descent ready to house arriving Afghans. Her own family, she said, made the trip four years after the United States left Vietnam. “We have to be prepared because people will do whatever it takes to survive.”

Afghans arriving in the United States may have special status for those who have supported U.S. military operations, or may have been sponsored to come by relatives already here. Others are expected to arrive as shelters or seek permission to travel to the United States under a process known as humanitarian parole and seek asylum or other legal protection once they are here.

To get parole, Afghans need the support of a U.S. citizen or legal resident, and some Americans of Vietnamese descent have signed up to sponsor people they’ve never met, Tuấn said. ĐinhJanelle, Field Director at the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center. He said a coalition of legal and community groups had secured sponsors for 2,000 Afghans seeking parole. Her sister, Vy Dinh, said she was sponsoring a family of 10, including women at risk because they worked in medicine and education. “As soon as he called I said, ‘Yeah, I’m here,'” she said.

Other efforts have focused on fundraising for refugee resettlement groups. Vietnamese and Afghan American artists held a benefit concert this month in Southern California to raise funds to help Afghan refugees. The event called “United for Love” was broadcast on Vietnamese television and raised more than $ 160,000, according to the Saigon Broadcasting Television Network.

It was also broadcast on Afghan-American satellite TV, said Bilal Askaryar, an Afghan-American lawyer and spokesperson for the #WelcomeWithDignity campaign to support asylum seekers. “They saw the need. They saw the parallels, ”Askaryar said. “It’s really strong to see that they saw this bond of common humanity between the Afghan community and the Vietnamese community. We were really touched and inspired.

Thi Do, an immigration attorney in Sacramento, Calif., Said he is also doing what he can to help. He was a boy when Saigon fell and his father, who served in the South Vietnamese army, was sent to a re-education camp. Upon their return, the family sailed into the ocean, hoping to reach a country that would lead them.

Do remembers how the boat hit dead bodies floating in the water and how his father apologized for putting him and his siblings in danger before throwing his ID card and cards overboard. keys of Vietnam. “’He said,’ I’d rather die here than go back, ‘” Do said. They eventually reached Thailand and Malaysia, two countries which forced them back to sea until they arrived in Indonesia and were treated in a refugee camp.

Decades later, Do said he had helped people fleeing persecution with his work as a lawyer, but so far nothing reminded him of Vietnam so much. He works with Afghan families who file petitions to bring their loved ones here, but what happens next is complicated without a US embassy in Kabul to process the papers and no guarantee that relatives will travel to a third country to get them.

“I see myself a lot in these kids running around on the airport tarmac,” he said.

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