Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

3 - Representation Matters: The "Boat People" from Vietnam and Refugee Policy in the Late 1970s

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Delaware Suite B, Lobby Level

Lisa Tran analyzes “refugee” as a discursive site that enables both governments and individuals to pursue their goals.  Although scholars have problematized the dichotomy between “migrant” as voluntary and economic and “refugee” as forced and political, few case studies exist.  Focusing on the “boat people” who left Vietnam in the late 1970s (most of whom were ethnic Chinese) and resettled in the United States, Canada and Australia, Tran argues that while international and state policy reified the legal distinction between migrant and refugee, the lived experiences of the people who left Vietnam blurred that distinction.  On the one hand, these categories determined how the international community responded to requests for amnesty; for the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees and countries that agreed to accept refugees, the line between refugee and migrant was guarded by international law and state policy.  On the other hand, the economic motives of the people granted refugee status and the lack of evidence of any deliberate state campaign to persecute them suggests that the line between migrant and refugee could be easily crossed.  In this regard, the label of “refugee” was enabling.  For the “boat people” recognized as prima facie refugees, it allowed them to achieve their goal of resettlement.  For governments, the admission of refugees played into national agendas.  By analyzing “refugee” as a discursive site rather than a fixed identity, Tran highlights the fluidity and utility of the category of “refugee.”

Lisa Tran

California State University, Fullerton, California

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3 - Representation Matters: The "Boat People" from Vietnam and Refugee Policy in the Late 1970s



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