Former refugee: “Refugees will contribute to society”

In the 1980’s, faced with a swelling number of arrivals and growing reluctance from western governments to maintain resettlement opportunities, governments in Southeast Asia threatened pushbacks. In response, the multilateral Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) was signed in 1989, bringing together commitments made by countries of origin, asylum and resettlement.

Saigon-trained architect Thanh Dang was among 63 people who packed onto a boat to leave Viet Nam in June 1989. After a week at sea, the crowded vessel reached Indonesia, where Dang ended up in the Galang refugee camp. He was ‘screened in’ as a refugee and subsequently resettled to the United States, where he became an architectural designer working on schools and medical facilities in Atlanta, Georgia.

Looking back on the life that the program gave him, he makes an impassioned plea to the international community and ordinary citizens grappling with today’s multiple refugee crises.

“Put yourself in the refugee’s position. They are just normal people. I don’t think anybody wants to uproot their lives and face an uncertain future if they don’t have to,” he said.

“If you give them a chance to rebuild their lives, refugees will contribute to society where they live. Please don’t be afraid of them, and welcome them.”

[Read full UNHCR article]

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