Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland's Vietnamese boat people, 35 years on

Vietnamese boat
Image caption Around 300 people fled Vietnam in this boat
Boat people rescued
Image caption The Vietnamese refugees were picked up by a British ship
Saychan
Image caption Saychan Lau found Northern Ireland "really scary"
Soldier searching shoppers
Image caption Saychan Lau was scared "because of the soldiers"
Amui Lay
Image caption Amui Lay left for London when the families became the target of attacks

Currently the eyes of the world are focused on the Middle East and the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who are fleeing their homes because of civil war.

But 35 years ago it was a different refugee crisis that was dominating the headlines.

And those at the centre of it became known as the Vietnamese boat people.

Crammed into small fishing boats, they risked their lives to escape their home country.

A small number of them ended up taking refuge in Northern Ireland.

Two of the first to come in 1979 were sisters-in-law Saychan Lau and Amui Lay.

Along with nearly 300 others, they left Vietnam in a 15-metre long fishing boat.

Good housing

They were picked up by a British ship and given refuge in the UK.

However, they were advised that there was a shortage of jobs in London so they should head to Northern Ireland where there was also good housing.

The largest group of Vietnamese people - around 19 families - came to Craigavon, County Armagh, but as a recently opened file in the Public Record Office shows, it was not always easy for them adapting to their new home.

Image caption Some families were told to go to Northern Ireland where job prospects were better

Saychan was just 17 when she arrived with her family.

She remembers being scared when she arrived "because of the soldiers".

She recalls soldiers with guns checking her bags before she was able to go into the shops.

Even though she had just left war-torn Vietnam behind, she found Northern Ireland "really scary".

Sinister turn

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Media captionAmui remembers people breaking into their home and taking their belongings

The Vietnamese people also found it very cold in Northern Ireland and hard to find the foods that they were accustomed to cooking.

But things were to take a more sinister turn.

After settling for a period and getting work, the families found themselves the target of attacks.

Amui remembers people breaking into their home and taking their belongings.

At first she said it happened only at night time, but that it wasn't long before they were being robbed during the day too.

She said it got to the stage where they felt they had no choice but to go to England.

Many of the families were never to return to Northern Ireland again, but Amui and Saychan came back a number of years later and say they are now settled for good.

They have even got used to the weather - and now find it to be too hot when they go back to Vietnam for holidays.

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