The Story of U.S.

Pathway 4: Migration of Boat People by Ken Nomura

The Type of Migration

The refugees from Vietnam navigated the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea to destinations such as Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Thailand. Some made it as far as Japan and Australia even though the journeys were very dangerous. These boat people are forced migrants and refugees because they were forced to move from their home country because of war.

Historical Details About the “Wave” of Migration

The first wave came after North Vietnam won the long Vietnam War, and thousands of South Vietnamese tried to leave Vietnam by boat because they were not politically prominent enough to get space on one of the American evacuation helicopters. These people became known as "boat people", who wandered through the South China Sea hoping to be saved by the U.S. Navy. The second wave of boat people came in the late 1980s. Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Thailand were some of the most popular destinations. The other few sailed to Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore.

Intervening Obstacles

Most boat people had no knowledge of sailing, making the journeys very dangerous. Most boats faced difficulties of being sunk in storms or getting blown off course. Many ran out of food and water, and even became targets for pirates because the refugees had many valuable possessions loaded on the boat. It is estimated that 10 to 50 percent of the refugees did not survive.

Push/Pull Factors

Pull Factors:

The boat people were pushed out of their country because of political oppression, poverty, and continued war.

Pull Factors:

They were pulled toward the United States because of the economic opportunities and the hope for a better life. U.S. had a democracy government and also offered social freedom.

The pull of economic opportunity in the U.S. was a greater motivation for the boat people than the push of political persecution.

Consequences of Migration

The Vietnamese boat people were forced onto small, poorly made boats packed with people after leaving the country. They were targeted by the pirates, losing all of their valuables and even their lives. Many boats were sank or blown off course because of fierce storms. It is estimated that 10 - 50 percent of the refugees did not survive the trip. Many died because of harsh weather conditions, illnesses and food shortages. Many on the boats lost many of their family members and relatives. Some families even sacrificed all their money to let even one family member to get on one of the boats.

U.S. Attitudes Towards Boat People

The U.S. worried that the refugees of Vietnam would not be able to contribute to the economy because they were very poor. They feared that they would tax the education and health care systems. Though, the United Nations persuaded the U.S. to allow more Vietnamese refugees into their countries and soon after passed the Refugee Act of 1980. This allowed Vietnamese refugees to come to the U.S. if they had family living there.


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