Author reminds us of what happens when war and mismanagement causes hordes of our fellow men to flee for their lives….
By Honglien Do and John E. Carey
“The Forgotten Ones, A Photographic Documentation of the last Vietnamese Boat People in the Philippines,” by Photographer Brian Doan documents the long, lonely plight of Vietnamese refugees who sometimes languished for up to 16 years on Palawan Island, the Philippines.
The heart and soul of this book emanates from the faces captured in Brian Doan’s marvelous black and white photographs of the refugees and their surroundings.
I am Honglien and I lived on Palawan as a detainee with my daughter and three nieces for seven years before we were returned to communist Vietnam. We recognized many of the faces in Brian’s book. Our journey to Palawan started aboard a small open boat without a working motor with 62 other refugees, four of whom died. The sea adventure lasted 22 days without proper food and water. But we were among the lucky ones: we survived it all and made it to the U.S.A in good time. One of our cousins was on Palawan for 16 years. He just got to America last year.
Brian’s pictures tell a lot but the photography alone leaves one wanting to know more. How did this happen? How could this happen?
Brian and other experts provide the necessary background text for those that don’t know the story of the Boat People of Vietnam and the men, women, children and families held in limbo for years in refugee centers like that on Palawan: many only to be returned to the nation they had fled: communist Vietnam.
The trip to Palawan for almost all the people starts in 1975. A few are still being brought out of Palawan today.
It was illegal to leave Vietnam once the communists took over. But more than a million people made the attempt anyway: and tens of thousands lost money to disreputable “brokers” in the process and wound up in communists jails, over and over again.
The boat trip from Vietnam to the Philippines almost always occurred in a small open boat. The trip might take three or four weeks and refugees often perished in transit.
But the service Brian Doan provides most is the careful photographic record of the forgotten Palawan refugee-survivors and their bare-bones living conditions in their refugee camp. These are the survivors, every one, and one may shed a tear or two just observing their faces and their primitive living arrangements: bamboo huts with mats as beds on the floors.
Often as many as forty men women and children would sleep in the same room.
But among the hundreds of Palawan survivors we spoke to: few had any animosity toward anyone. No matter how long their stay in Palawan, if they made to the U.S. or other free countries they are delighted.
Brian captures a time capsule but it is slice of a more than two decade long saga of processing refugees, making them wait for many years, and then sending many back where they started.
This is not a tale of glorious success on the part of the Catholic Philippine nation, the United States, or the United Nations. In many cases this is the story of prolonged human agony for unknown reasons, bureaucratic red tape and because the communist rulers in Vietnam didn’t want to lose their “best and brightest.”
“The Forgotten Ones, A Photographic Documentation of the last Vietnamese Boat People in thePhilippines,” by Photographer Brian Doan is a book everyone who cares about mankind should see.