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A Vietnamese refugee ship was rescued by an Israeli cargo vessel in 1977. The refugees were offered water, food and Israeli citizenship

Tijana Radeska
Vietnamese boat people

After the Vietnam War, especially during 1978 and 1979, many refugees abandoned Vietnam by boat and ship into an open sea and became known by the term “Vietnamese boat people.”

The term is also often used generically to refer to all the Vietnamese (about 2 million) who left their country by any means between 1975 and 1995.

Vietnamese boat people awaiting rescue. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Vietnamese boat people awaiting rescue. Wikipedia/Public Domain

The number of refugees leaving Vietnam and arriving safely in another country totaled almost 800,000 between 1975 and 1995. Many of the refugees failed to survive the passage, facing danger and hardship from pirates, over-crowded boats, and storms.

The boat people’s first destinations were the Southeast Asian countries of Hong Kong (then a British crown colony), Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.

From refugee camps in Southeast Asia, the vast majority of boat people were resettled in developed countries; more than one-half in the United States and most of the remainder in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Several tens of thousands were repatriated to Vietnam, either voluntarily or involuntarily. Programs and facilities to carry out resettlement included the Orderly Departure Program, the Philippine Refugee Processing Center, and the Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Rescued Vietnamese boat people being given water. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Rescued Vietnamese boat people being given water. Wikipedia/Public Domain

On June 10, 1977, an Israeli cargo ship en route to Japan spotted a leaking boat crammed with 66 Vietnamese men, women and children. They were among hundreds of thousands of “boat people” fleeing their war-ravaged country following the end of the Vietnam War.

Despite desperate SOS signals, the refugees, who were out of food and water, had been ignored by passing ships from East Germany, Norway, Japan, and Panama. The Israeli ship picked up the passengers and took them to Israel.

There, Prime Minister Menachem Begin authorized their permanent admission to Israel, comparing their plight to that of European Jewish refugees seeking a haven in the 1930s.

Israeli Prime Minister Manachem. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Israeli Prime Minister Menachem. Wikipedia/Public Domain

From 1977 to 1979, the Prime Minister permitted approximately 360 Vietnamese boat people fleeing the 1975 Communist takeover of Vietnam to enter the State of Israel, granting them full Israeli citizenship and rights as well as government-subsidized apartments.

According to the Vietnamese Embassy in Israel, by 2015 approximately 150 to 200 former Vietnamese refugees and descendants were still in Israel while about half have left Israel mainly for the USA and France. Very few have formally converted to Judaism having retained their former religions.