Lai Thi Binh
"Death Surrounded Us"
We have lived in terror under Vietnam's communists who have taken revenge on generations and generations of my family. From my grandfather, father, and uncle to my generation, we have suffered countless acts of revenge from them. And now our children, our innocent children, will receive the same.
Therefore we have risked our lives to escape from the claws of the communists on May 15, 1988. But we have been denied refugee status in Hong Kong and we will be sent back to Vietnam. On October 18, 1989, my family was rejected for the second time. It is as if I was stabbed by a thousand knives. I totally lost my life in me, I felt my life slipping away, and I do not understand why I have been denied refugee status.
All of my grandfather's possessions were confiscated by the communists in 1953, all of them. My grandfather died on the spot, my grandmother and my father were sought by the communists and had to escape to Haiphong. Anyone with the background of private property owners, the communists felt they must destroy at the root, completely. My parents could not be accepted for work anywhere. Therefore, with his skilled hands and hard work, my father bought brass scraps to heat up and to make into useful goods for my mother to sell and make a living.
But the communists would still not let go of us. They always followed us and took many of our things and labeled our family "exploiters." My brothers and sisters and I because of that could not continue our education. When I tried to attend school I was humiliated by the teachers and by the other students because of my family background. I was forced to study at home.
In July, 1979, I took the examination for the University of Foreign Languages -- the school that I have always dreamed about. But the communists did not accept me even though I scored well. They rejected me because I had a "bad family history." I was hurt, discouraged and disgusted with the unjust society that had taken away my rights and my dreams.
In November, 1979, being uncertain that any job could be secured for me, my parents paid a large sum for me to study English from a private teacher. Yet at that time we could only study for two months, the following two months I was taken to do forced labor in Huong Son, in the mountains of North Vietnam. There I performed demanding tasks, tilling the land, planting potatoes, digging roots. From the time I began school and after that during the years growing up, I came to understand that I would always be oppressed and could enjoy that no human rights even though my family and I have been aware of and accepted Vietnam's new laws.
In November, 1980, I began to work at the Souvenir Shop for the Sailors' Club in Haiphong. There were many foreigners who came to the shop. I thought life would be fine and I could make a living. However, the oppression on myself and my family became greater every day even though my parents quietly accepted a debased life, deploring our lot.
In 1981 I was transferred to the Service Team, waiting on tables. They degraded me and accused me of doing intelligence activities since I had contact with foreigners. I lived in humility and quietly bore my suffering and pain. I continued to do physically demanding work without a minute of rest and became tired and weary each day. Every day I washed hundreds of dishes and thousands of glasses of the hotel and had to clean two rows of bathrooms and sweep the whole large area of the club. I deplored my fate, an animal's life and no longer a human's.
I am a capable, good woman and completely innocent. Why did "the humane communists" punish me when their own people were daily enjoying themselves and committing dangerous crimes. In the Souvenir Canteen, there were people with no English language skills working who were got jobs because they were well connected. Are they not the cheaters and exploiters then?
I could not live peacefully under their fangs anymore.
In 1984, my sister and her husband, who were expelled by the communists and resettled in Denmark, sent me $2,000 US Dollars through a friend visiting Vietnam. Immediately, the police forced themselves into our home, searched and robbed us of the money hidden on my mother's body, and arrested her, put her in Tran Phu prison, and confiscated our family's possessions, included my notepad with addresses of friends abroad who came to Haiphong's port when I wa selling at the Club. From that, the Communists accused me of contacting people from abroad for intelligence activities. They fired me and followed me. In charge of me was Captain Tu, a cruel policeman from the Political Security Office My life was one of constant terror and fright. At this time, my heart was always throbbing and I asked myself, "I am also a person. Why do I not have any human rights? Who has robbed me of them? And how do I retrieve my rights? How?"
Finally, I found the answer: I must escape from Vietnam. Living under the Communist cruelty, how could I ever hope to defend myself? They would follow me until the day that I died, I knew. They would never let me be happy or even dream.
In June, 1984, I at last found a way to leave Vietnam, but unfortunately it was a clever trap set by the communists simply to steal our money once more. We were caught and then I witnessed a scene of horrors. They raped a young woman in our group. After that, we were forced to the barracks of police in Luong Khanh Thien, Haiphong. It was there that I discovered it was they who planned the trap.
And so, at my hearing I exposed their deceit. Immediately, they punched and slapped my face and body until I fell to the floor unconscious. They then locked me up in a dark hole, full of water, and had only a small space for air. Water was up to my thighs for a whole month. Every day I was only allowed outside for five to ten minutes. I developed sores all over my legs from being emerged in dirty water. My health declined. My family put out a lot of money to the police and party leader. Only then could I be released. Before I left, they forced me to swear that I would not tell anyone what they had done to me or how they had planned to rob us when we tried to leave the country. Because my health was in such serious danger, I agreed against my will. I thought since they were the Communist government leaders, who could I complain to? How can a weak female like me fight back against that giant system? And my family is Buddhist, so I must follow my religious teaching and keep my promise.
Released, I once again did forced labor one week a month. The rest of the time I sewed for different private tailor shops to make a living. I was mentally terrorized, I had no real freedom, I was under observation at all time and was not allowed outside the city. And I was always required to report. When I reported my body was abused by them. And my labor was too demanding. I received not a dollar for salary and I carried heavy stone blocks and was beaten if I sat down for a moment of rest.
Yet more cruel than that, even, they have indirectly strangled my life, my spirit. To a person who values emotions and spirit and family, marriage is respected and protected with high regard. But they destroyed all my loves, because of my "bad history." Young men were afraid to come near me.
In 1985 I met and married my husband, who is presently with me -- a true political victim who they communists have also labelled, "traitor."
I completely lost all strength due to heavy labor and suffered illness of the heart. In January, 1986, after coming back from forced labor, I had a miscarriage.
In February, 1986, my mother, who had been imprisoned by them again, was released from prison. While there she was interrogated she was abused and upon arriving home she died. She only got to see my father and brother before her death.
My older sister, mother of three children, presently living here with me, was also terrorized and robbed of all her blood and sweat in more than 20 years. Her private home was taken away by the communists and her family was thrown into a small dark house surrounded by public latrines, next to millions of insects and bacteria carrying dangerous illness. This is how the Communists punish those they dislike and kill them slowly.
In January, 1987, I gave birth to a son. In January, 1988, when my son turned one, I was again forced to perform labor even when my child was still young. I had no choice. After forced labor this time, I realized that if I remained in Vietnam, I would continued to be mistreated and terrorized until death. In February, 1988, with many saved and borrowed from friends, my husband, my child and I escaped to Ha Coi on the Chinese border in order to get out of Vietnam. But we were unsuccessful and had to turn back. When I tried to return home my family told me that I had not reported for work and so the police were searching for me to arrest me. I hid until May 15, 1988. Then I succeeded in escaping.
Drifting in Vietnamese waters for 15 days our boat was fired at by Government patrol boats but we were lucky they missed and we escaped death. But our little boat got lost at sea and we ran out of food and water. Storms came and the ocean got rough. Death surrounded us. In those times we could only wait for the waves to push us to the bottom of the sea. We lived no differently then than animals. We fought against countless terrors for 18 days. filled with danger. We made it to Hong Kong, the threshold of freedom, justice and humanity for other refugees. But not,
unfortunately, for us. We arrived after the new policy of Hong Kong was introduced.1
I see that the screening policy makes sense because Vietnamese boat people have come to Hong Kong in such large numbers and caused many problems for the Hong Kong government. The good may not be as many as the bad, and the trouble that some cause affects the whole people. And as in Vietnam we all are required to pay unjustly.
My husband and I shall never recover from what the communists did to our minds and our hearts.
Please save us. Give us a chance to see the freedom, human rights and justice that we need that we had to pay for with such a high price. We left my father, my brother and my sister behind us. They are still suffering under the Communists. We came across the sea and risked our lives many times in order to escape from the nightmare that the communists have created. And we wish to die right here in this prison rather than be forced to return to Vietnam. We will never go back.
[Lai Thi Binh and her family were screened out. They are currently in Chi Ma Wan awaiting forced repatriation to Vietnam. The British government will pay Hanoi $1800 as a "resettlement" cost when the family of three is returned.]
1. After June 15, 1988, all boat people arriving in Hong Kong were considered "asylum seekers" until they underwent a screening procedure. Those who were determined to be genuine "refugees" fleeing from political oppression are "screened in" and transferred to various centers to await immigration to other countries. Those who are determined to have left Vietnam for purely economic reasons are refused refugee status and are defined as "illegal immigrants." They and are kept in closed detention centers awaiting return, voluntary or forced, to Vietnam.