Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association
On April 30, 1975 Saigon fell to the Army of North Vietnam. That spring, 125,000 Vietnamese fled the country. From 1978 to the mid-1980s, approximately two million Vietnamese fled the country by boat, which was highly dangerous and illegal. Refugees faced dangers from overcrowded boats, pirates, and the perils of Mother Nature. Alarmed by the high death toll, in 1979 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) proposed the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) which received the support and cooperation of the U.S. State Department and other diplomatic offices around the world. The next year the United Nations established an Orderly Departure Program office in Bangkok, Thailand to facilitate safe departures from Vietnam. In 1989, Robert Lloyd Funseth, Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Acting Director of the Bureau for Refugee Programs, negotiated with the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to allow emigration of former reeducation camp prisoners to the United States. For 15 years the Orderly Departure Program helped over 500,000 Vietnamese refugees immigrate to the U.S. before its closure in 1994. The ODP office in Bangkok closed in 1999, and the remaining open cases were given to the Refugee Resettlement section at the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. From 1981-2000, 531,310 Vietnamese political refugees entered the U.S. In November 2005, the United States and Vietnam signed an agreement allowing the emigration of those unable to leave before the closure of the ODP office in 1994.
After her life was tragically affected by the war in Vietnam, Khuc Minh Tho dedicated herself to those hoping to start a new life, as she did, in the United States. Born in 1939 in the former Sa Dec province (now Dong Thap province) near Saigon, Communist forces kidnapped Khuc's father in 1968 and he was never seen again. In 1972 her step-mother was also killed by communist forces. When she was 23 years old and five months pregnant with her third child, Khuc's husband was killed by the Viet Cong as well. From 1961 to 1972, Khuc worked for the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Vietnam. From 1972 to 1975, she served as Administrative Officer at the Vietnamese Embassy in Manila, Philippines. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, her second husband, Nguyen Van Be, a colonel in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam was sent to a reeducation camp, where he would spend the next 13 years. In 1975, with her husband still incarcerated, Khuc immigrated to the U.S. She worked in a variety of social service positions in the suburban Washington, D.C. area, including the Foundation Senior Citizen Association, and the government of Arlington County, Virginia. She was the first Vietnamese American to work in the Arlington County Department of Human Services, Division of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services.
In 1977, to win the release of her husband and other Vietnamese political prisoners, Khuc co-founded the Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association (FVPPA) in Arlington, Virginia, along with Trinh Ngoc Dung and other spouses, children, relatives, and friends of Vietnamese political prisoners. Khuc not only co-founded but also served as president of the FVPPA. Up to 20 volunteers met at Khuc's house each night after putting a full day's work at their day jobs and worked for the release of Vietnamese political prisoners and for their immigration to the U.S. through the ODP. They petitioned Congress and lobbied the State Department on behalf of Vietnamese political prisoners. In 1984 the FVPPA was officially incorporated by the Commonwealth of Virginia State Corporation Commission.
The FVPPA's stated purpose was to "promote the reunion of political prisoners with their families in the United States and elsewhere in the free world." The group also called for public awareness to the plight of political prisoners. The FVPPA worked with the American government, international humanitarian organizations, and other volunteer agencies to achieve its goals of family reunification and humane treatment of prisoners.
In its work on behalf of political prisoners and refugees, the FVPPA undertook a variety of activities. Their public awareness program sought to collect and disseminate pertinent information on the needs of Vietnamese political prisoners and their families. An outreach program sought to establish a case file for every prisoner and his or her immediate family to assist eligible persons with their immigration from Vietnam to the United States or other countries. The FVPPA also acted as an information center for recent immigrants, and provided resettlement information and assistance as well as aiding in family reunification. They maintained correspondence and held meetings with several politicians, government agencies and officials, and human rights organizations.
Khuc Minh Tho described her role and the goals of the organization by stating: "As president of the association, my principal role is to represent the rights of the political prisoners and their families and appeal to the executive and legislative branches of the United States government, and to all governments of other free countries, to intervene with Vietnamese authorities with respect to their rights. I also advocate for the prompt release of political prisoners from the reeducation camps in Vietnam and assist them in reuniting with their families and loved ones in the United States or in other countries." Through her dedication and leadership, the FVPPA achieved many of these stated goals and had a lasting impact on the Vietnamese American community in the United States.
In July 1989, the United States and Vietnam signed an agreement allowing former reeducation camp prisoners and their families to resettle in the U.S. Funded by a grant from Amnesty International, the organization developed a list of the 100 longest-held Vietnamese political prisoners and worked for their release. Their lobbying efforts also led to the passage of the McCain Amendment (Section 595 H.R. 3540) in 1996, which allowed former prisoners' children over the age of 21 to immigrate to the U.S. Their efforts also led to the elimination of the requirement that former Vietnamese political prisoners have six months trade and English training in Philippines before entering the U.S.
Robert Funseth credited Khuc Minh Tho with being "...the guiding light behind the movement to free Vietnamese who were held in communist reeducation camps..." Funseth felt so strongly about Khuc's efforts that he presented her with the ballpoint pen he used in Hanoi to sign the agreement between the United States and Vietnam. In 2005 Khuc was a National Alliance of Vietnamese American Service Agencies (NAVASA) Honoree. Today she still works on behalf of Vietnamese immigrants as an active member of the Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation.
The contributions of the FVPPA were of great significance to the Vietnamese American community and United States history. By writing and petitioning U.S. government officials and agencies along with those of other nations, fundraising, and raising public awareness of the plight of Vietnamese political prisoners, the FVPPA gave voice to thousands of Vietnamese political prisoners, former U.S. allies and employees, and their families who might otherwise have been forgotten. By helping these Vietnamese refugees immigrate and resettle in the U.S., the Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association became a vital key to the understanding of the Vietnamese American immigration experience.
From the description of Records, 1905-2002 1977-1999. (Texas Tech University). WorldCat record id: 229454596
|referencedIn||Collection Number: 1849., 1905-2002, bulk 1977-1999||The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University|
|creatorOf||Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association. Records, 1905-2002 1977-1999.||Texas Tech University Libraries, Academic Library|
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|Human rights advocacy|