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Vietnamese Americans protesting Britain’s forcible repatriation policies in front of the British Consulate, Los Angeles, January 1990. Photo: Nguoi Viet Daily News.

In 1989, the British authorities carried out the first forced return of Vietnamese from Hong Kong, using riot police to herd 51 refugees, most of them women and children, onto an airplane in what they hoped would be a secret nighttime operation. But news of the action was reported and photographed, and it led to an international outcry that so embarrassed Hanoi it refused to accept any more refugees who were forced to return.

In the summer of 1975, Vietnamese children sing and play Ring Around the Rosie while learning English words. Photo courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps.

Two days before the war ended—on April 30, 1975, when Saigon fell—Marine General Paul Graham received a call that Camp Pendleton was to be one of four military bases to receive a mass influx of Vietnamese immigrants. By the next morning the immigrants had begun to arrive and, in less than 24 hours, the base managed to construct temporary housing, in the form of tent cities, for 18,000 people. Most of the refugees brought only the clothes they were wearing.

Vietnamese religious procession in Versailles, 1975.
Photo Credit: Archdiocese of New Orleans

The name “Versailles” refers to “Versailles Arms Apartment,” the New Orleans East public housing project where a tight-knit group of Vietnamese refugees was first resettled in 1975. The refugees have fled their homes twice already in their life time—first from North to South Vietnam to escape communist persecution in 1957, and then to New Orleans from the war in 1975.

Vietnamese refugees at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, 1975