SAIGON (1954-1960)/ 8. Phase II: Peripheral Settlement Camps
The second phase began in conjunction with the three-hundred-day period specified by the Geneva Accords. In this period, most of the refugees in Saigon, Cholon and Vung Tau moved to more permanent settlements in provinces right next to these city centres (Hansen, 2009). The field study of the Refugee Commission found that by September 1955, only six provinces contained more than 30,000 refugees: Bien Hoa (128,968), Gia Dinh (115,535), Cholon (51,546), My Tho (46,320), Tay Ninh (40,153) and Binh Thuan (37,112) (Smuckler, 1955). All these provinces are located relatively close to Saigon.
There were two ways which determined their resettlement. Some refugees decide the sites they wished to build their new communities, while others were brought to these places either by the government’s order or by the Uy Ban Ho Tro Dinh Cu (Resettlement Assistance Committee) 1 (Hansen, 2009). Such resettlement was necessary in light of a multitude of social problems arisen from the sudden and enormous influx of refugees into Saigon and Cholon. Overcrowding, inflation in housing price, strong competition for employment and commercial opportunities were severe in the city centre. These problems surfaced in such a short time that the government was unable to provide any comprehensive, strategic or state-sponsored plans for resettlement. The government was only interested in relocating immigrants to anywhere without disrupting the infrastructure of Saigon, and in some cases the refugees had made up their decisions beforehand.
The table above shows that the influx of refugees was significant as compared to the size of the local population. For example, bac di cu (refugees) accounts for more than 40% of total population in Gia Dinh, Ba Rja and Bien Hoa. The growth in population size of these places became starting points for more rapid development.
Bien Hoa accommodates huge number of refugees during the second phase. More than half of the 200,000 refugees, who arrived the southern Vietnam in the first 100 days, were resettled in Bien Hoa alone (COMIGAL, n.d.). Most of the refugees lived along the Donai River or the highways. Accessibility played a critical role in initiating this pattern of development, as shown on the map of Bien Hoa in 1968 where settlements congregated around the main artilleries. The houses were mostly built by the refugees themselves, though the government contractors did build a couple of model houses in Honai and Tanmai (districts of Bien Hoa). COMGIAL had reported significant improvement of the general living condition in Bien Hoa refugee villages: from tents to wood or bamboo houses, from waste land to new facilities such as primary schools, markets and restaurants. However, such self-initiated resettlement has not received sufficient support from the government in building necessary infrastructure. COMICAL (n.d.) had concluded that:
… refugees … had neither enough time to build all the houses they needed, nor enough facilities and means to become completely self-supporting.
By December 1955, 257 resettlement camps were officially registered by the COMIGAL (Hansen, 2009). These resettlement camps extended the relationship between Saigon and the surrounding provinces in terms of the flow of population and trading.
1 The Resettlement Assistance Committee is a group representing the clerical leadership of the ten northern dioceses in exile, led by Bishop Pham Ngoc Chi of Bui Chu.
- COMIGAL. Resettlement: First Victory of the Anti-communist Vietnamese. COMIGAL, n.d., pp. 1-6.
- 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. 193-194
- Smuckler, Ralph. Field Study of Refugee Commission, September 1955. COMIGAL, 1955, pp. 5.