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The American Embassy in Saigon
Read about London's Vietnamese community and how these brave people overcame civil war. And are now gradually emerging as a strong and vibrant community in the capital.
An anti-Vietnam war demonstration in London
The majority of Vietnamese people were refugees from North Vietnam and first came to the UK after the reunification in 1975. The second wave of refugees were known as the ‘boat people’ and were either victims of the economic crisis under the leadership of the Nationalist Party, or had to flee because of the border war with China.
When we spoke to Mr Thanh Vu, founder of the An Viet Foundation in Hackney, he reflected on those terrible times. He told us: "I was so lucky. Although I was in a 9 metre boat with about 41 other people, a British ship picked us up, where others had ignored our pleas. We were told that if we hadn’t been picked up that day we’d have drowned because a storm was coming. And the storm did come the next day". Although safe in Hong Kong, they were placed in detention camps waiting for permission to enter the UK. When the camps closed, the British Government took responsibility for 10,000 Vietnamese and the first few thousands were settled in South East London.
Did you know
There are around 15,000 Vietnamese refugees in London
By the time of the second influx, the government had decided to disperse the refugees to the regions. The Vietnamese must have found the isolation of rural areas problematic. Mr Ung, Vietnamese specialist at Refugee Action in Stockwell, points out: "People couldn’t settle in the rural areas and so they abandoned their houses, came to London and lived illegally in squats, until some local authorities showed sympathy and moved them into legitimate accommodation on big housing estates in Peckham, Lewisham and other South London areas".
Nevertheless, this was certainly preferable to the re-education camps in the jungle areas of Vietnam, where people like Mr Vu were made to work under nationalist rule. Wearing a painful expression he recalls: "We were fed on rations so small. A piece of meat no bigger than my thumb would have to last me for a whole year!"
Vietnemese Festival Summer 2007
Quan Tran who runs the Vietnamese Community Refugees of Vietnam in Tower Hamlets proudly believes that the Vietnamese people in London are working towards making a mark on the capital. He says, "Last year the organisation celebrated twenty five years of the Vietnamese community in Tower Hamlets, to tell others that we are here to stay and contribute to London and Britain".
Monks at the temple of Holy See, Vietnam
He also added that the majority of Vietnamese people are Buddhists and are a peaceful community. Many Vietnamese proudly remember the Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc who captured the world's attention when he burnt himself to death in front of television cameras in 1963 as a protest against the persecution of Vietnam's Buddhists.
After arriving in the UK, some Vietnamese found jobs in the clothing industry. They worked mostly for Greek and Turkish factory owners and were later able to start up their own clothing companies around London. Other Vietnamese people took over the city's 'fish & chip' shops as Cypriot and Italian Londoners moved out of this sector.
Vietnamese Festival Summer 2007
Vietnamese restaurants specialising in popular Viet dishes such, Pho (pronounced foo) is a soup that contains noodles, often eaten for breakfast in Vietnam and considered by some as the the national dish of the country. Traditionally made with tougher cuts of beef and bones, the extensive cooking time produces a dish full of flavour and tenderness. The dish has its origin in French cuisine as it was the French who introduced the custom of using bones to make a base stock.
last updated: 09/09/2008 at 11:09