Vietnamese Refugees: For Some Camps, Rape Was “Normal”

When the Vietnam war ended in 1975, a vast migration of Vietnamese people began. So many entered Thailand that the Thai government, the United Nations, and international human rights groups established refugee centers inside Thailand.

“But the cost of entering Thailand and the cost of entering the refugee camp was rape,” a Vietnamese American woman told us.

“My sister was raped 13 times,” she said.

“Many of my relatives disappeared. We are sure they must have been killed.”

By John Francis Carey


“This occurred in 1975 but continued for more than ten years as Vietnamese people came out of their home country,” the former refugee told us.

Thai sailors at sea were notorious as pirates searching the ocean for Vietnamese “Boat People.”

If the Thai men found helpless Vietnamese “Boat People,” they usually killed all and stole anything of value they found.  First they raped the women of all ages.

“I was eight months pregnant,” one told us.  “I was the only person not raped and killed in my boat.  I saw my husband killed and one of my other relatives beheaded.”

No Thai government has ever effectively dealt with the human rights abuses they have witnesses for the last three decades.

One of the more notorious camps for refugees inside Thailand was known as “Sikiew.”

“When I was 12, my family and I was in a refugee camp called “Sikiew Camp” in Thailand,” wrote Chai. “Life in the camp was no different to a prison, I could tell that the grown ups were going crazy and very much depressed. There were brick walls surround us, we live, eat, and sleep in a building that housed around 200 people, each person were given a 65cm x 2m space.”

Another woman told us that after 6 PM, Sikhiew became a lawless area.  “Thai men came in, grabbed a refugee woman, and disappeared to rape her all night.”


Above: Vietnamese refugee man named Phong; suffering from mental illness after being involved in cannibalism at sea after escape from Vietnam, Palawan Refugee Center, Philippines. Photo courtesy of Photographer Brian Doan.


Palawan Refugee Camp, Philippines

PRPC was funded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and was capable of holding up to 18,000 refugees at any one time. Coupled with a large population of Filipino and third-country employees, PRPC operated like a small city with schools, hospitals, libraries, restaurants, sports facilities, fire brigades, sewage treatment facilities, power generation facilities, water treatment centers, markets, and houses of worship for four religions.

They numbered about 50,000 during the 1980s but most have emigrated to the United States or repatriated back to Vietnam. Some have intermarried with Filipinos and Spaniards living in the Philippines. Most of them are Catholics.

The camp could hold about 300 staff. Most of the staff lived in the camp in poorly built dormitories.

The main functions of the camp were to hold the refugee population long enough to complete tuberculosis testing, wrap up bureaucratic requirements before departure, and—assuming the refugee was heading to an English speaking nation—give them an opportunity for English as a second language training. Virtually all refugees had confirmation before arrival at PRPC that they had been accepted to resettle in the West and therefore the mood among the refugee population was frequently upbeat and positive.

The ESL program was operated by the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) and was funded by the U.S. Department of State. ICMC provided training to adult refugees aged 17 to 55. Aside from ESL classes, it offered Cultural Orientation (CO) and Work Orientation (WO). A similar ESL program was offered to children by World Relief through an extensive primary education program that took place within classrooms throughout the site.

Photos Courtesy of Major Lan Dalat







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