SAIGON (1954-1960)/ 1. FOREWORD

Ho Chi Minh City, otherwise known as Saigon1, is essentially a city of migrants. With its enormous footprint nowadays, it is mesmerising to see it was developed from a French military outpost no bigger than 0.5 square kilometre. Dating from its French possession 2, each of its period of rapid urban expansions are preceded by military conflicts on a regional scale.

Figure 1: Geographic Growth of Saigon (1867-1967). Source: Bogle, J.E. (1972), The United States Agency for International Development. Redrawn by Lau Tsz Long Oscar due to poor image quality

(Regional Conflicts that happened around these times include : Japanese Invasion of Southern China and Vietnam fro late 30s to 1945; First Indochina War from 1946-1954 and finally Vietnam War from 1960s to 1975.)

Amongst these military conflicts, a single event have left its mark on Saigon more than any other conflicts combined. The event is the known as the ‘Cuôc Di Cö Vó Dai’ (Great Transmigration) in Southern Vietnam.

Article 14(d) of the accords of Geneva Conference in 1954 granted Vietnamese citizens the right of free movement between the South and the North for 300 days. As a result of spontaneous movement and RVN propaganda, more than 800,000 refugees (according to official numbers from the RVN) flocked southwards to Saigon by the means of land and marine transmigration.

From 1954 onwards, resettling these refugees have been a difficult task for the RVN officials. Commissariat General of Refugees (or its French acronym COMIGAL) is the chief organization in resettling them. With neither the experience nor adequate resources to face such a huge amount of refugees, foreign help including scholars’ advice and research were brought in from the US.

Three phases can be summarized for the resettlement effort: Firstly, they were temporarily settled in civic buildings around Saigon, with the largest temporary camp of Phu Tho Racecourse and the Tan Son Nhat Airport. Then, there are both spontaneous and government planned resettlement of refugees in the provinces immediately surrounding Saigon, which is the contemporary suburb of Ho Chi Minh City. Refugees are resettled as a village, often led by their spiritual leaders (priests or monks). The third stage are often regard as a strategic move by Premier Diem in terms of political and military considerations. Refugees were moved further to the South or the Central Highlands to form new settlements. It is hoped that these new settlements could prevent Viet Minh activities in the countryside, as well as boosting agricultural production.

Our research focus is to examine how this significant event in modern Vietnamese history propelled the urban expansion of Saigon. Also, how it came to define the contemporary urban boundary of Ho Chi Minh City as we know it today. We are also interested in how different protagonists reacted to such a sudden and rapid population influx, and how these reactions shaped the city’s urban form in the subsequent years.

Here is our posts on the issue:

SAIGON(1954-1960): Resettlement of the Northern Refugees

  2. Historical Context: Warfare and Migration
  3. Protagonists: Vietnamese Organisation (COMIGAL) and the President
  4. Protagonists: Foreign Support
  5. Operation Passage to Freedom
  6. Resettlement Programme Phase I: Temporary Settlement
  7. Resettlement Programme Phase II:Peripheral Settlement Camps (1)
  8. Resettlement Programme Phase II:Peripheral Settlement Camps (2)
  9. Resettlement Programme Phase III:Further Resettlement
  10. Case Study: Issues faced by COMIGAL during the Resettlement Programme
  11. Case Study: The Catholic Community
  12. Case Study: Religious Institution in Bien Hoa
  13. Case Study: A Personal Account of a Bac Di Cu
  14. Case Study: Development of Vung Tau
  15. Further Points of Study | Conclusion

1Sai Gon is the city’s official name before the Reunification of Vietnam. Due to the timeframe of this research, the city will there and after be referred to as ‘Saigon’.

2 The origin of Saigon’s urban history is commonly regarded at 1859, in which the French and Spanish colonists occupied the military outpost of Saigon.


  1. Bogle, James E.. Dialectics of Urban Proposals for the Saigon Metropolitan Area.The United States Agency for International Development, 1972.
  2. Elkind, Jessica. “The Virgin Mary Is Going South”: Refugee Resettlement in South Vietnam.” Aid Under Fire: Nation Building and the Vietnam War. University Press of Kentucky, 2016, pp. 25-56

1 Comment on “SAIGON (1954-1960)/ 1. FOREWORD

  1. It is interesting to study the urban transformation and development under the phase of migration and refugees. The topic is still significant even in today’s world. This can be an important social factor with huge power to push the transformation process of the city in quite a short time compared with other economic and political factors. The migration was also an important factor influencing the urban sprawl of our case, Dubai, although the situation is quite different. How other factors, such as economic or political ones, works together with the migration in terms of the city transformation may also be an interesting aspect to study.

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