WASHINGTON, D.C. – More than three decades after the Philippines opened its doors to them, it was the turn of former refugees from Vietnam to return the favor – this time by donating more than P19 million to support relief efforts for victims of Typhoon Haiyan.
On Monday, representatives of the Vietnamese Community visited the Philippine Embassy to extend their sympathies to the Filipino people and turn over the initial $440,554 that they were able to raise for the benefit of the more than 10 million affected by the typhoon.
“This is a very touching gesture from a people who said they never forgot how they were treated kindly by Filipinos who instead of pushing them back to sea, even pulled their boats ashore to help them,” Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. said after receiving leaders of the Ben Em Dang Co Ta Foundation, the Saigon Broadcasting Television Network (SBTN), and the Vietnamese Refugees for Philippines (VR4P).
Ambassador Cuisia said the Embassy received a check for $240,554 for the Philippine Red Cross while another check for $200,000 was turned over to the US-Philippines Society, which is directly supporting typhoon relief efforts in the Central Philippines.
Ambassador Cuisia said the donations were raised from members of the Vietnamese Community, particularly those who were among the more than 400,000 refugees or who had relatives who were accommodated at either the Philippine Refugee Processing Center in Bataan or the Philippine First Asylum Center in Palawan.
According to Ambassador Cuisia the refugees who were accommodated in the Philippines were among the 1 million to 2 million Vietnamese estimated to have fled their country, mostly by boat, at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. More than 250,000 did not make it as they perished during their voyage across the sea.
“It was a very dark time for all of us boat people. We had no other choice but to risk our lives to escape. Many of us had faced tragedies, hunger and even death during our quest towards freedom,” said Dieu Quyen Nguyen, Executive Director of the Ben Em Dang Co Ta Foundation.
“However, we were able to conquer this battle because we were not alone. We had the help, the protection and the sponsorship from different people, especially the people of the Philippines,” she said. “You had once shown us the meaning of love when we were just foreigners in your country. Now it is our opportunity to thank you for what you had done for us unconditionally.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of the Philippines as they mourn so many loved ones and neighbors lost in the dreadful destruction of Typhoon Haiyan,” said SBTN Vice President Phu Do, who along with VR4P Project Leader Bach Mai Nguyen also turned over posters and a plaque of appreciation to Ambassador Cuisia.
“We faced fears, had hopes and dreams. So are you now. We continue to be on your side for what can be done as relief efforts,” he added.
“Please remember that you are not alone. The Vietnamese people are behind you,” said Dinh Doan, Chairman of the Vietnamese Community in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Ambassador Cuisia was grateful for the generosity of the Vietnamese community. “Thank you for your kind gesture and concern for our people. I look at your gesture as one of kinship and solidarity with the Filipino people,” he said.
“I am also grateful that our government in the past opened our doors to you,” Ambassador Cuisia added as he also recalled how the Philippine Government allowed Vietnamese refugees to settle in the country permanently after the closure of the processing centers in 1996. “We face huge challenges in reconstruction in the months and years ahead, but we are grateful to have you behind us.”
Ambassador John Maisto, President of the US-Philippines Society, and Executive Director Hank Hendrickson accepted the $200,000 donation on behalf of the US-Philippines Society.
“It is numbing and very gratifying to see this outpouring of gratitude. You, of all people, understand suffering. You fled oppression and you were welcomed into the Philippines, and you came to the United States,” Ambassador Maisto said.
“Thank you not only for your help to the Philippines, but, as a US citizen, I would like to thank you for what you have contributed to our country. This is another example of how blessed we are as a country to have you here,” said Ambassador Maisto.