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Vietnamese people in Birmingham
This page is part of Celebrating Sanctuary: Birmingham and the Refugee Experience 1750-2002
by Malcolm Dick

The presence of Vietnamese in Birmingham dates from the aftermath of the Vietnam War. By the late 1990s, people of Vietnamese origin were estimated at about 3,000, settling mainly in the Handsworth, Soho, Aston, Sandwell and Ladywood wards of the city.

When the Americans left Saigon in 1975, after failing to defeat the communist and nationalist opposition, many refugees fled Vietnam and thousands went to the USA. Others went to France, which had ruled Vietnam as a colony until forced to concede independence in 1954. Only a few hundred settled in the UK. In the late 1970s and 1980s, Communist Vietnam experienced instability and economic hardship. Refugees leaving the country increased because of the persecution of ethnic Chinese and attacks on the business classes. Hundreds of thousands of ‘boat people’ left Vietnam and settled in overcrowded refugee camps in Hong Kong. In response to a major human crisis, the Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher agreed to take quotas of refugees and 12,000 came to Britain in the 1980s.

In Birmingham, resettlement took place largely through charities such as the Ockenden Venture and the Midlands Vietnamese Community Association. The Catholic Church, particularly through the efforts of Father Peter Dao Duc Diem acted as a magnet for many Vietnamese. Not all Vietnamese were Catholics, others were Buddhists or belonged to other religious traditions. The Vietnamese arrived as a result of traumatic experiences. Almost all arrivals were young and they were unable to bring any resources with them. Ill and elderly family members generally failed to survive their experience as ‘boat people’ or inside refugee camps. The lack of an established Vietnamese community in Britain created settlement problems and integration proved to be more difficult than in France or the USA where there was a greater degree of support, recognition and training. Learning English proved difficult. There can be few more diverse languages than English and Vietnamese.

Most refugees in the 1980s arrived during a recession in the local economy and overseas qualifications were frequently not recognised. Obtaining employment was difficult, but the situation has improved. Since the 1980s growing numbers of Vietnamese have qualified professionally or graduated in computing and electronics.

To find out what Birmingham Libraries has in stock about Vietnam, please use the online library catalogue.

Simply type Vietnam or Vietnamese in the Keyword Search box.

If you are going to travel to a library to get a book or CD, please phone first to make sure that it's on the shelf.

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Last updated - Wednesday 27 June 2007 Return to Top | Printer Friendly