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San Dinh, Vietnam/Northern Ireland

I am a Vietnamese refugee. I was in this ship (referring to the photo) which carried 295 passengers. The vessel maximum capacity was supposed to accommodate a hundred passengers only. However, some passengers sneaked in without notice. Fortunately, we were saved and rescued by a British vessel after two days. Otherwise, we would never make it to Hong Kong. The condition on the ship was horrific. There was no fresh water and a suffocating odour filled out the whole ship. Sometimes, when sea waves hit the ship, there was no shelter and we all got soaked.  We were fortunate that the British vessel rescued us. I still remember it was the year 1979 when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. It was who initially prohibited British merchant vessels from rescuing Vietnamese refugees in the South China Sea and refused to give Vietnamese boat people refuge in Britain.  Then, the captain of the British vessel negotiated with the authority. The situation on the ship was worsening and even a few passengers were dead. At the same time, the British vessel also negotiated with the Taiwanese government, with the hope that Taiwan would give refuge to us. Unfortunately, they strongly opposed so we were left trapped on the British merchant ship for over a month. In the end, the British government agreed to take in Vietnamese boat-people and thus all of the passengers were arranged to fly to UK. However, we only realized all the passengers were divided into 3 groups into separate refugee camps upon arrival. Therefore, some of us lost contact with their family members. We knew our family members were somewhere in UK, but we had no clue exactly where they were. Finally, we got reunited after two miserable months. We started to settle down. We used to run business but we gave up because we could not speak English. We did not have many options. We came to Northern Ireland because we got job offer in a factory. The factory was located in Portadown. The working condition was good. The manager even learnt Chinese to teach us how to operate the machine. Later on, we had been back to London in a short term to look for better job opportunities. But in the end, we came back to Northern Ireland and ran a business. Plus, my grandchildren were born so I was happy to came back. 

My name is San Dinh Vong. I was Chinese but immigrated to Vietnam. I used to live in GuangXi.  (Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, an autonomous region in China, bordering Vietnam)  I fled to Vietnam to reunite with my father. My own kids were born in Vietnam. My son came with me together to UK. The grandchildren were born in Northern Ireland. But I have relatives who are still living in Vietnam. 

I am 68 now. I have a total of 2 sons with 8 grandchildren. I am retired now and have been living in Hong Ning Garden.