The American war in Vietnam wreaked well-documented havoc on the lives of so many — not only innocent civilians, but on those South Vietnamese who trusted the United States and its many empty promises. After the massacres, the poisonous chemicals, and the country-wide devastation came the betrayals as Vietnamese citizens and even some soldiers who helped the United States in its losing attempt to stifle communism were left behind to face the enemy.
There is an iconic photo of people, mostly Americans, scrambling up a ladder to a hovering rooftop helicopter to escape Saigon as the enemy closes in. So many Vietnamese who colluded with the United States during the war never made it up that ladder.
Many with means and connections were able to escape soon after Saigon fell. It took longer for a million more “boat people” to get out, although hundreds of thousands of others died in their attempts to flee by sea.
Now, in the film “Stateless” (see story on front page), we learn of 2,000 Southeast Asian refugees who managed to get as far as the Philippines, but got caught in limbo there for 16 years as the West slowly edged them out of resettlement options, leaving them to live stateless lives until they were all but forgotten.
This is a tragedy by any means, but an especially unconscionable one on the part of the country responsible for these people having to leave their homeland in the first place.
Two thousand people is a relatively small number to fret over, but even one person is too many when you think about the disruption in life — living in fear and poverty, being separated from family, not having access to health care, and not having citizenship.
The worst part is that we did it again. During the U.S. war in Iraq, another country we invaded that didn’t attack us, we enlisted the help of many Iraqi citizens as interpreters, guides, and construction workers.
When the United States finally left that shattered country, it abandoned a large number of Iraqis to fend for themselves, this time in a land awash in chaos. Many have been killed, imprisoned, or are in hiding. Some have fled to other countries and are living stateless.
Perhaps the best they can hope for, after a few decades, is that the United States will finally do right by them.
Hopefully, by then, there won’t be yet another country full of people suffering the same fate, and another country after that, and another country after that. (end)