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The swift fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban and the refugee crisis in the conflict-torn nation is a painful reminder to many Vietnamese-Americans, many of whom were forced to leave their nation after Saigon fell in 1975. Special Correspondent Mike Cerre reports on how the Vietnamese community in Seattle is reaching out to help Afghan refugees. The story is part of our ongoing series ‘Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America.’
As shocking as the recent Afghan evacuation was to most Americans, it was also a painful reminder to many Vietnamese-Americans — many of whom experienced an evacuation nightmare and refugee crisis of their own after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Now the Vietnamese-American community in Seattle is reaching out and welcoming Afghan refugees.
NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Mike Cerre reports as part of our ongoing series: Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America.
Uyen Nguyen, Viets4Afghans:
So I was sitting there and just watching the news, going by and just looking at these horrific images that just trigger a lot for me.
Uyen Nguyen lost her mother and two siblings during their family's escape from Vietnam by boat. Like tens of thousands of other Vietnamese refugees, who eventually made it to the U.S. in the 70s and 80s, they depended on the generosity of many Americans to find a home and start a new life .
At the end of the day, humanity is a common denominator. You know, we all want a safe roof over our head. We want a brighter future for our children. We just want hope.
Uyen helped start "Viets 4 Afghans", Vietnamese Americans in the Seattle area, helping newly arriving Afghans navigate their way through their refugee crisis.
And I think that both Vietnamese and Afghans also share, unfortunately, this feeling of abandonment. We were in this to fight with the U.S. and then the U.S. left us.
Thanh's father was a Vietnamese army officer who fled his country after the Communist takeover. She is her family's first American-born child.
I think it's an integral part of who I am because I was raised by refugees and I was raised by people who went through that trauma.
Dede Tran, also the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, has an even more recent and personal connection to the plight of Afghan refugees. An army veteran who served in Afghanistan, she's now trying to help her former Afghan translator and others resettle in the U.S.
It's been healing as a veteran to give back in this way. It's also been healing as a daughter of refugees to give back in this way.
The group enlisted Dr. Thuy Do and her husband Jesse Robbins along with more than a hundred other families, mostly Vietnamese Americans, to agree to temporarily share their homes and rental properties in the Seattle area with the new Afghan arrivals like Abdul Kadiri and his family.
Dr. Thuy Do:
My family came over with two sets of clothes per person and about three hundred dollars. And that's all we had in the world. Forty five years ago on the Fall of Saigon. This was the Vietnamese community. This was exactly us. A different culture, different people, different language. I'm sure very similar sentiments, very similar fear, very similar desperation, very similar hopes of a better future in the U.S.
Washington state has a proud history of welcoming Vietnamese refugees, starting shortly after the fall of Saigon in 1975. As their numbers swelled at the refugee tent city constructed at the Camp Pendleton Marine Base in California, with no place to go next, Washington's then Governor Daniel Evans, offered the state's help in initially relocating 500 Vietnam refugees to the Seattle area.
Fmr Gov. Daniel Evans, Washington, interviewed 2015: I thought to just leave them after they had helped us was not a very moral thing to do
And Vietnamese Americans, especially those who are here in Washington, have never forgotten that– his generosity.
The Vietnam refugee exodus spanned nearly three decades. The state's Vietnamese community has since grown to more than 70,000. Most of the initial Afghan refugee assistance in the Seattle area and elsewhere, is being coordinated by the same, mostly faith based relief agencies like World Relief, that were borne out of the Vietnam refugee crisis.
I do see an uptick into the amount of immigrants and former refugees stepping into what we're doing. But they have always been there because the reason is that they have been in the shoes of the newcomers that we're helping to begin their lives.
Medard Ngueita, a former refugee from Chad, heads-up World Relief's Afghan resettlement efforts in the Seattle area, which are supported by state and federal funding as well as public donations.
Health, economic empowerment, education, all of those things come only when you have a place that you call a home, only when you have housing.
In addition to the current housing crisis, relief agencies and the local Afghan community are also concerned with how different Americans' views on immigration are now than they were during the Vietnam era, especially since 9/11.
And when it comes from an Islamic country, I think it reinforces that idea of that we don't want immigration because we don't want these people's beliefs and ideologies.
A former U.S. military interpreter, who immigrated here in 2015, Navid Hamidi heads up Seattle's Afghan Health Network and the local Muslim community's outreach efforts for recent Afghan arrivals, like Asirah who just arrived earlier in the week.
We have direct connect with all the newcomers and old ones. Compared to other states, Washington is fairly progressive and very welcoming.
Seattle's official welcome starts on arrival at Sea-Tac airport, relief agencies are allowed to meet the refugees at the gate and take them to a private receiving area away from the normal airport confusion, while their caseworkers organize luggage, transportation and a hotel room.
Abdul Ahmadi, a case worker with Lutheran Community Services Northwest, an Afghan refugee himself in 2015, was able to find Haroon Habbibi's family an apartment, get their six kids enrolled in local schools and registered with social security to start job interviews within the first month of their arrival.
Abdul picked us up from the airport and brought us to the hotel. And from there he worked with us and like, in four days, he rented an apartment.
We have to work very hard to find a nice and a good place near to the school and supermarkets and safe area. So we finally find that. We had to work hard.
I have a neighbor here I call him, "Uncle Denny". He helped me a lot. He is asking me, like if I need any help any time, every day.
"Uncle Denny" is Dennis Dunne, their new neighbor and longtime area resident.
And I see how difficult it is, you know, because it's just like, say, you dropped off and, you know, you have some help. You have some services, but it's not everything you need.
The largest Vietnamese language television network, produced an eight-hour telethon that raised more than $160,000 from the Vietnamese community to support Afghan refugees.
That's extraordinary. And one of the families that contributed had been helped by Lutheran Immigrant Services.
People have contacted us all around the country, wanted to see how they can actually start something similar in their state.
Seattle's tradition of welcoming refugees, like Uyen Nguyen's family years ago, is being passed between two different generations and between two very different cultures.
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