Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association (FVPPA)

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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 Tho'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, Tho's husband was killed by the Viet Cong as well. From 1961 to 1972, Tho 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 re-education camp, where he would spend the next 13 years. In 1975, with her husband still incarcerated, Tho 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, in order to win the release of her husband and other Vietnamese political prisoners, Tho 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. Tho not only co-founded the FVPPA, but she also served as president of the association. Up to 20 volunteers met at Tho's house each night after 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 in order to assist the eligible persons with their immigration from Vietnam to the United States or other countries in the world. The FVPPA also acted as an information center for recent immigrants, and providing 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, including: President Ronald Reagan, President George H. W. Bush, Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau for Refugees Robert L. Funseth, Orderly Departure Program Director Martha Sardinas, the U.S. Department of State, the Bureau for Refugee Programs, the Embassy of the United States of America in Bangkok, Thailand, Amnesty International, Staff Consultant for the Subcommittee on Asian & Pacific Affairs Eric Schwartz, Congressman Stephen J. Solarz, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Senator John McCain, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Senator John Kerry, Senator Bob Dole, the Department of Social and Health Services for the State of Washington, and Thailand refugee camp president Ngo Suu.

The FVPPA held two annual events to raise money and public awareness, and to honor those individuals and VIPs who had contributed to the FVPPA's mission and cause: The Annual Freedom Reunion Picnic, and the Annual Awards Dinner and Culture Show, also called the Unity and Reunion Dinner. Among the many other important events the FVPPA held or attended are: "A Salute to Freedom" Picnic, Memorial, and Reception in July 1994; a reception at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in 1988; an event marking International Human Rights Day in 1987; performances by Vietnamese singers and performers at T.C. Williams School in 1988 and 1989; a concert by Hoang Thi Tho in 1990; the International Children's Festival in 1996; and Vietnamese American Appreciation and Celebration Day in 1999.

The FVPPA was staffed entirely by volunteers. It had no paid professional employees and relied upon the work of members and friends. Donations paid for the publication of a newsletter, computer equipment, telephone, postage and office supplies. The organization also conducted ongoing fundraising activities to support these costs.

In April 1992, Khuc Minh Tho was interviewed as part of a project of the Organization of Pan-Asian American Women. She 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 re-education 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 of 1989, the United States and Vietnam signed an agreement allowing former re-education 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 children over of the age of 21 of former prisoners 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.

In a 1989 interview with The Orange County Register, Robert Funseth, Senior Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, credited Khuc Minh Tho with being "...the guiding light behind the movement to free Vietnamese who were held in communist re-education camps..." Funseth felt so strongly about Tho'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, Mrs. Tho 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 to 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.

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 2 million Vietnamese left 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 Commission 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 ODP 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 immigration of former re-education camp prisoners to the United States. For fifteen years the Orderly Departure Program helped over 500,000 Vietnamese refugees immigrate to the U.S. before its closure in 1994.

From the guide to the Collection Number: 1849., 1905-2002, bulk 1977-1999, (The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Collection Number: 1849., 1905-2002, bulk 1977-1999 The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Amnesty International corporateBody
associatedWith Bush, George, 1924- person
associatedWith Dole, Robert J., 1923- person
associatedWith Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association corporateBody
associatedWith Funseth, Robert person
associatedWith Kennedy, Edward Moore, 1932- person
associatedWith Kerry, John, 1943- person
associatedWith Khuc, Minh Tho person
associatedWith Lowan, Shep (Shepard C.) person
associatedWith McCain, John, 1936- person
associatedWith National Alliance of Vietnamese American Service Agencies corporateBody
associatedWith Ngo, Suu person
associatedWith Nguyen, Ngoc Dung person
associatedWith Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Regurees. corporateBody
associatedWith Reagan, Ronald person
associatedWith Sardinas, Martha person
associatedWith Schwartz, Eric person
associatedWith Shultz, George Pratt, 1920- person
associatedWith Solarz, Stephen J. person
associatedWith Texas Tech University, Vietnam Archive corporateBody
associatedWith Trinh, Ngoc Dung person
associatedWith United States. corporateBody
associatedWith Vietnamese American Heritage Foundation corporateBody
associatedWith Washington (State) Dept. of Social and Health Services corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Vietnam
Subject
Human rights advocacy
Human rights advocacy
Political prisoners
Political refugees
Political refugees
Vietnamese Americans
United States
United States
Occupation
Activity

Person

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