Fr Jim Carty sm, Australia, writes of his missionary years in Japan: The years 1978 and 1979 are remembered as the high-water mark for the flood of refugee boat people fleeing Vietnam.
They had to face storms, diseases, starvation, drowning, and real and frequent plunder and rape by Thai Pirates. The lucky ones were either rescued by passing ships or made it to a shore of a safe country.
Estimates of the number of Vietnamese people who died at sea according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, is the staggering figure of well over 200,000. No exact figure is available.
The tens of thousands who did survive were accommodated in the many camps established by the UNHCR in the countries of South East Asia - the Philippines, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Indonesia.
Japan, with some reluctance, abided by the International law of the Oceans and allowed those refugees rescued at sea by ships on their way to a Japanese port, to disembark and live in Japan on a temporary visa to await permanent residency in another country.
However, the Government had no program for accommodating the arrivals and left it to Church groups and NGOs. The Marists in Nara agreed to set up a "camp" if a suitable site could be found.
After many twists and turns a decision was taken to build the camp on the Marist property at Gose - a rural location at the southern end of the Prefecture.
The first group of refugees arrived in January 1980 and although the camp was originally scheduled to operate for two years, it continued for six. During that time, there was a constant stream of arrivals and departures as the boats kept coming and countries such as Australia, the USA, Canada and Norway kept resettling them.
Fortunately, Caritas Japan provided a paid-for Vietnamese interpreter. The first, was a young lad named Quan Khue. He was with us for most of the year and the moved back to Tokyo to pursue further studies. That was in November 1980 and that was the last I heard of him- that is until the following email arrived last month- some 38 years later.
Hi Father Jim Carty,
My name is Quan Khue who worked for you and Caritas Japan as interpreter at Kuzu shi Nara ken Japan in 1980. Yesterday I came across your name on internet and found your email address. It is hard to believe it has been 38 years since I left this refugee camp and since then I have lived in California USA, worked as an engineer, built a happy family in silicon valley and now I am retired.
When I think back on that time, I feel the deepest sense of gratitude—because of Gose camp, warm home and food for the hungry. Thank you for building Gose camp for Vietnamese refugees. You saved so many of us, found us new homes, new lives, but most importantly, you let us know that we were not alone. You were our beacon of hope, and assured us that we'd all be okay until we relocated in US or Australia.
Attached is a picture at Gose refugee camp in 1980 for you to refresh memory.
Thanks for your help, Quan Khue.
When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.
What a moving story Ben and Jim! Thank you. It reminds me of my uncle Fr Francis Frechette SM who left the Marists, and his diocesan bishop asked him to greet the Vietnamese refugees arriving in the airport at Worcester, MA. He was the first American to receive them along with Catholic Charities who found housing for them.
My name is Hannah N Bartlett. (nee: Harunah Iwasa) I was a good friend of Phonglan Trang. Phonglan lived in Kuzu, Nara, Japan, with her mother and father. I sang at the Christmas charity fundraiser concert in 1983 to raise money for the refugee camp. I visited the camp often. My Vietnamese was terrible, but we were able to communicate in English.... IF you remember me please leave a note here.... PS. Phonglan did send me a postcard from Australia, in 1994, wrote me a short note about her wedding.....I too have left Japan for the US of A, in 1990. I did graduate from high school, college, and trade school. Now I am a US citizen, married(2000-present) with 6 children.
Hannah, I have forwarded your message to Fr Jim Carty, who wrote the blog, and asked him if I can give you his email address. Blessings on your life in the US and on your family!
We, Vietnamese Heritage Museum in California would like to contact you about the drawing that you had posted on the website. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, please visit our website http://vietnamesemuseum.org/
Dear Father Jim Carty,
My name is Hoang Van Nguyên. I have stayed at the Vietnamese refugee camp in 1989 under your mission at Marists in Nara. You saved so many of us, found us new homes, new lives…You were our beacon of hope. We cannot thank you enough.
After I left there, my brother named Duong Van Nguyen still lived there. Then later on, I heard that camp got to relocate in another place. From that time , I have lost contact with my brother.
I would like to ask your help again Father Carty please please…I hope you can help us find any information about my older brother. I will send a picture if I can find one. He was a very skinny and quiet person.
May God always be with you and bless you. Thank you for all of your hard work, dedicating your life to us. We really appreciate you.
Hoang Van Nguyen
This is Hoang Van Nguyen again, and I accidentally typed 1989 when I stayed at your Vietnamese refugee camp at Nara in 1980. Please let me know if you have any information pertaining to my brother Duong Van Nguyen.
Hoang Van Nguyen