Why do millions of people so desperately want to leave Vietnam?

A million and a half people have risked their lives to leave Vietnam illegally. Another million are trying to leave within the law. Why have so many Vietnamese people lost hope in their native land? What should be done to help them?

For ten thousand days or nearly thirty years, the Vietnamese people fought and vested two of the world's great military powers, France and the United States. But did they win the war only to lose the peace?

Many of the illegal migrants have left from the port of Fung Tao in southern Vietnam. One in five died during their escape yet many more followed.

Many did not see a future for their children in Vietnam. Nowadays, it is possible for some to leave Vietnam legally as a result of an agreement between the Vietnamese and US governments. Nearly a million people have applied to leave under the programme. Eligibility requires at least one US parent or have close relatives in the United States or have worked for an American company.  The process is not plain sailing and there have been allegations of bribery to get approval for interview. Five and a half thousand interviews are conducted each month and a judgement is made in about fifteen minutes of being interviewed.

For many Vietnamese, the most important fifteen minutes of their lives.

Many Vietnamese live in abject poverty and the country is among the poorest in the world.
 

Marian Cadogan, director of the Catholic development agency CIDSE Vietnam, provides a background to the living conditions for many Vietnamese with a life of poverty and deprivation and the challenges of getting access to education and healthcare.  

When the war of independence ended, the country was left with over one million orphaned children and over half the population was homeless. Today, the average income is little over a hundred dollars a year.

Dr Duong Quynh Hoa, was Minister for Health under the first Vietnamese national government, and resigned over the poor wages offered to doctors and teachers. She now fights to end poverty and ignorance which are at the root of most diseases in children. To this end, she has established a research programme with the help of aid agency Trócaire.

'Radharc – Vietnam: Losing the Peace’ was broadcast on 14 August 1990. The narrator is Andy O'Mahony.