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
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
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.
- 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.
- COMIGAL. REPORT on the Conference of the Commissariat for Refugees on October 12, 1955. COMIGAL, pp. 3.
- Luce, Don, and John Summer. “Vietnam: the Unheard Voices.” Vietnam: the Unheard Voices, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1969, pp. 142.
- Hansen, 2009, pp. 148
- Hansen, 2009, pp. 243