SAIGON (1954-1960)/ 7. Phase II: Peripheral Settlement Camps

The second phrase of the resettlement started prior to the conclusion of the Geneva Agreement as the immense influx of refugees caused existing infrastructure and planning to shatter.  It did not address settling refugees in strategic areas as a long term goal but instead with need to get them out of facilities within urban areas where it threatened the current urban infrastructure and environment.  The influx of refugees to Diem was a double-sided blade where they were potential sources of support but resettlement process were hardly appreciated in the early stages.  As Luong, the head of COMIGAL, tells Diem:

“They (refugees) are afraid that they will be resettled in a remote and secluded area…allow for them to first be resettled in close-by areas, so as to create a favorable precedent for when it comes time to resettle them further away.”1

Aerial view of Saigon in 1961; Pink showing Saigon and Dark red portrays the peripheral settlement. “Saigon, 1961.”
Aerial view of Saigon in 1961; Pink showing Saigon and Dark red portrays the nearby peripheral settlement. “Saigon, 1961.”

Such recommendations led the Diem’s office to adopt a criteria for selecting land for the peripheral resettlement.  As most of the refugees were farmers, the selection needed to be well drained, suitable for farming while having small occupations on the contrary for non-farmers.

Refugees would be escorted by their priests to places like Bien Hoa for an opportunity to make a living for themselves, family and village group.  The government, setting up 26 hectares of land for 20,000 families, provided them tents with temporary shelter, and gave them materials to construct own permanent houses.  A budget of 400 millions piasters will cover all expenses in the resettlement phrase including farmer’s work animals, water pumps, and immigration system2.  Other bottom-up considerations were also executed; to resettle refugees in highland rather than rice-land as growing rice would take 6 months to harvest but other crops would require a relatively shorter time3.  In highlands people could also cut their own bamboo which were pivotal for permanent housing.  The Chief and Bishop of Bien Hoa would aid construction, feed and provide security refugees until they were self-sufficient.  Although Refugees did in fact scatter around Saigon, namely Gia Dinh, Bien Hoa and Long Khanh, yet for various reasons.  As Hansen mentions:

“Resettlement in this second phase (as distinct from that which followed) was not as a result of a comprehensive, strategic, state-sponsored plan, but instead was a mixture of happenstance, ad hoc decisions, and unauthorized self-determination.”4

Refugees lining up for food. “Flickriver: Photoset 'Vietnam 1954 - Operation PASSAGE TO FREEDOM' by Manhhai.” Flickriver: Photoset 'Vietnam 1954 - Operation PASSAGE TO FREEDOM' by Manhhai,
Refugees lining up for food. “Flickriver: Photoset ‘Vietnam 1954 – Operation PASSAGE TO FREEDOM’ by Manhhai.” Flickriver: Photoset ‘Vietnam 1954 – Operation PASSAGE TO FREEDOM’ by Manhhai,

Despite attempts to resolve self-sufficient challenges, during the early phrases of the resettlement social problems were apparent where there were break street fights between refugees and local non-Catholic youth.  Although it does not represent the vast majority of the refugees, it points out the fact that the North and South had negative attitudes towards one another, showing little interest towards integrating into the Southern community.  Many believed that their time in the South would be brief and that they would return to the North to overthrow the Communists5.  This implied that refugees were initially reluctant to find employment and become a long term economical contributing factor to the Southern community, as district chiefs and priests at Go Vap did in fact refused to leave in the early stages of resettlement.

Difficulties of coordination between the Americans and Vietnamese also began to surface as they needed to deal health issues.  In Cap St. Jacques, the medical chief had no additional staff to spare — one person was in charge of 150-bed hospital; arrival of medical equipments with missing parts and instructions, is the direct portrayal of hectic situation of day to day operations with the influx of large populations. 


  1. Hansen, Peter. “Bắc Đi Cú: Catholic Refugees from the North of Vietnam, and Their Role in the Southern Republic, 1954–1959.” Journal of Vietnamese Studies, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Fall 2009), pp. 159-160.
  2. COMIGAL. REPORT on the Conference of the Commissariat for Refugees on October 12, 1955. COMIGAL, pp. 3.
  3. Luce, Don, and John Summer. “Vietnam: the Unheard Voices.” Vietnam: the Unheard Voices, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1969, pp. 142.
  4. Hansen, 2009, pp. 148
  5. Hansen, 2009, pp. 243

1 Comment on “SAIGON (1954-1960)/ 7. Phase II: Peripheral Settlement Camps

  1. The response of the Vietnam government towards refugees was immediate but lack of consideration of long term planning. Unlike Japan, the development of Vietnam was very much controlled by the government while the people didn’t have much say nor had the power to propose any changes. Both Hiroshima and Ho Chi Minh underwent tragic warfare but the two cities recovered very differently. While the former recovered quickly by strategic planning and cooperation, the latter was stuck. However, this was made possible as Vietnam soon underwent Vietnam War in 1955 till the 1970s. Space for recovery was limited.
    However, instead of simply providing the refugees the things they lacked immediately, it was also important to educate their people to self-construct their homeland. Not only could it facilitate a more efficient recovery, it could also literate her people. The strategy that the government took was merely a short term one; thus, the impact may be small to the people.
    I am also interested to know how this strategy affected the government’s future method in advancing the country. As far as I know, the government constructed proper housings as resettlement but to what extent was these resettlement sustainable in long term?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.