How did I come to Australia? ‘I just want to see a kangaroo’
On this Australia Day (26/1) exactly 39 years ago I came to Australia as a refugee. It has been a long and winding journey, but I have survived and made meaningful contributions to this beautiful country that I call home. On 26/1 people are talking about ‘invasion day’, but I am talking about a personal Thanksgiving day. My story started with a hilarious interview in the Songkhla Refugee Camp (Thailand) 40 years ago.
On April 16, 1981, my elder brother, my sister, I and 20 friends left Vietnam in a wooden fishing boat heading toward Thailand. Some friends were former army officers of the Republic of Vietnam, and they just finished their years in ‘reeducation camps’. We were determined to get out of Vietnam even if we had to pay the ultimate price of death.
None of us was a seafarer. My brother who captained the boat had not had any experience in sea navigation. He only looked at the compass and the star, and with some guesswork from others, to determine the direction to Thailand. An engineer and I were assigned to take care of the engines and petrol.
Landing in Budi (Thailand)
After 3 days and 4 nights at the treacherous sea, we randomly landed in Budi, a small fishing village in Southern Thailand. We were seasick, extremely exhausted, and hungry. We were so lucky to be alive at the time when all of us were ready to die.
We were warmly welcomed by local villagers who did not know what to do with us. A village official found a large, open garage where we could temporarily stay while he would inform higher authorities of our arrival. Two days later, an American mission came to interview each of us and to fill out a number of United Nations forms. They were very kind to us, and promised to help us through the hard time ahead.
We stayed in Budi for approximately one month. During that short period, each of us went out to find jobs to get money for basic needs. I worked as an assistant for a local fisherman, and had chance to learn how to catch squid. Every day, I was given a few bahths, rice, fish, and fish sauce which were quite enough for a tasty meal.
We were then transferred to the Songkhla Refugee Camp, a larger and more organized refugee center managed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The camp was temporarily constructed on a deserted beach in 1976 to provide…