Date of Award

Spring 1992

Document Type




First Advisor

Robert Swartout

Second Advisor

Rev. Jeremiah Sullivan

Third Advisor

Ronald Stottlemyer


After years of fighting a bitter war, first against the French, and then the Americans, the Vietnamese communists ultimately took control of the Republic of Vietnam in 1975. In the following decade, as social upheavals and political oppression prevailed, nearly a million people fled Vietnam as refugees. These refugees first sought asylum in the camps of Southeast Asia, and later many resettled abroad permanently. While some moved swiftly to their new homelands, hundreds of thousands of refugees waited hopelessly in the camps for months and even years. This latter group is the primary focus of the thesis, which will discuss at length the transit episode at Galang Refugee Camp in Indonesia. I have selected Camp Galang for several reasons. First, as a former refugee living in this camp, I had gained some unique insights into life inside the camp. I would like to share this very personal experience so as to enhance people’s understanding of such a confusing and complicated topic. Second, since materials on refugee camps are limited, I undertake this project with the hope of increasing the sources available. While the refugee experience has been the subject of many books, movies, and television documentaries, social historians still lack substantive information about life inside the refugee camps. By focusing on Camp Galang, this study will, hopefully, provide an interesting comparison with those studies of camps in places such as Hong Kong and Thailand. Finally, in pursuing this topic, I am attempting to raise awareness among those who are uninformed about the refugee problem and clear up some of the misconceptions they might have about Vietnamese refugees. For those who are informed, this study might enrich their understanding of the Vietnamese as persons through the evaluation of their background and experience.

This thesis is unique in that my own memoirs and recollections of the camp provide the main source of information for the writing. Some historians have maintained that sometimes even the best anthropologists and social scientists, as outsiders, cannot understand the issues as well as those who live it. On the other hand, experience alone does not make one an expert in the field. Therefore, in order to make this study as accurate and objective as possible, I have checked my observations and understanding against numerous books, newspaper and magazine articles, and government documents, all of which supply specific facts and broad interpretations of the refugee movements. Any inaccurate interpretations of evidence and personal observations remain, of course, my own responsibility. The following chapters will first discuss briefly the history of Vietnam and the causes of the refugee movements, and then concentrate on Camp Galang. In this thesis the life stories of the refugees receive great emphasis, with particular attention focusing on the perennial problem of escape, the quality of life inside the camp, and refugees’ hopes and fears for the future.