SAIGON (1954-1960)/ 9. Phase III: Further Resettlement

The third phase of the refugees resettlement from the North started from late 1955 and quickly became the policy focus for the RVN Government. After the first two phases of the resettlement programme, the resettled refugees are mostly gathered in the provinces surrounding Saigon-Cholon. In December 1955, of the thirty-one provinces that contained resettlement camps, five accommodated more than thirty thousand refugees each; four of them are located immediately around Saigon1. Such an uneven distribution of refugee population caused different social issues in Saigon, including worsened traffic congestion, hygiene problems and security issues. To combat these problems, the government started the policy of population redistribution by locating sites in the Mekong River Delta and the Central Highlands for development.

By developing these region, the Diem administration hoped to improve the standard of living for these refugees and create new industries and markets within the rural area. Some historians also suggested that these rural resettlement programmes was aimed to consolidate Diem’s regime and prevent Viet Cong from gaining support in the rural area, especially in the Central Highlands2.

As a significant project in this phase, the Cai San Project is dubbed as a “Dramatic Story of Resettlement and Land Reform” by the government. A booklet has been published by the RVN government to commemorate this project. Located in the Southwest region of the country, The Cai San resettlement project housed 70,000 peasants, including 50,000 refugees from the North3.  Due to the geographical constrains of the site, the resettlement camp is built upon a network of canals, dug by the refugees and former inhabitants in the region. As the fundamental infrastructure for the project, these canals are used for both transportation and irrigation purposes.

Plan of the Cai San Project. Source: Secretariat for State for Information, Republic of Vietnam. Cai-San: The Dramatic Story of Resettlement and Land Reform in the “Rice-bowl” of the Republic of Vietnam. Saigon, n.d.
Plan of the Cai San Project. Source: Secretariat for State for Information, Republic of Vietnam. Cai-San: The Dramatic Story of Resettlement and Land Reform in the “Rice-bowl” of the Republic of Vietnam. Saigon, n.d.
Early Settlements in Cai San. Source: Secretariat for State for Information, Republic of Vietnam. Cai-San: The Dramatic Story of Resettlement and Land Reform in the “Rice-bowl” of the Republic of Vietnam. Saigon, n.d.
Early Settlements in Cai San. Source: Secretariat for State for Information, Republic of Vietnam. Cai-San: The Dramatic Story of Resettlement and Land Reform in the “Rice-bowl” of the Republic of Vietnam. Saigon, n.d.

From the Plan published in the booklet, the planning of the region can be understood. The land for this development scheme is divided by a major canal in the centre, which connects two existing water body (River Hau and Rach Gia Bay) from the North to the South. Along the major canal are  the canal branches which stem out. Villages and resettlement camps were built along these canals, while existing villages are scattered around the project lot. Farmland are located around these villages, where villagers worked close to where they live. Government aids including financial support and tractors are given to the residents in order to help developing the region.

Amongst the existing documents of the RVN government, official plans and reports of concerning the resettlement camps are scarce. Although the Cai San project is different from the earlier resettlement programmes in terms of its scale, location (Mekong Delta) and time (1956), it can be viewed as a possible references of how the resettlement camps surrounding Saigon were planned and developed.

In spite of the government’s effort to realise its population redistribution aim, this phase of resettlement did not result in favour of the RVN government. Due to the general reluctance of Northern refugees to move further4, the continual migration to Saigon from the countryside, as well as the escalation of conflicts between RVN and Viet Cong, this phase of resettlement programme is ended along with the dissolution of COMIGAL in 1957. 5


References:

  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. 195
  2. Hansen, 2009, pp. 198
  3. Secretariat for State for Information, Republic of Vietnam. Cai-San: The Dramatic Story of Resettlement and Land Reform in the “Rice-bowl” of the Republic of Vietnam. Saigon, n.d., pp. 8
  4. Hansen, 2009, pp. 199.
  5. Elkind, 2016, pp. 43-45

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