Released Re-education Detainee Program Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Released Re-education Detainee Program provided a pathway for Vietnamese who had been sent to reeducation camps by the communist government of Vietnam after the fall of the South Vietnamese government in 1975 to emigrate to the United States with their families.

After the fall of the South Vietnamese government in 1975, thousands of Vietnamese fled the country to escape possible reprisals from the new communist government. Many of these people died at sea while trying to flee in small boats, and in poorly supported refugee camps in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, many of those unable to leave Vietnam were interned by the national government in “reeducation” camps, which were actually prison camps aimed at punishing those who had worked for the South Vietnamese government or U.S. forces and indoctrinating them in communist ideology.[a]Released Re-education Detainee Program[Released Reeducation Detainees Program]Humanitarian OperationCommunism;Vietnam[a]Released Re-education Detainees Program[Released Reeducation Detainees Program]Humanitarian Operation[cat]INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS;Released Re-education Detainee Program[cat]SOUTHEAST ASIAN IMMIGRANTS;Released Re-education DetaineeProgram[cat]EDUCATION;Released Re-education Detainee ProgramCommunism;Vietnam

By 1979, the United Nations persuaded the new national government of Vietnam to participate in what became known as the Orderly Departure ProgramOrderly Departure Program. Over the next two decades, various humanitarian efforts were launched to help Vietnamese wishing to emigrate to find homes in other countries. Many Vietnamese successfully relocated to various countries around the world, including the United States. However, little progress was made in persuading Vietnam’s government to alleviate the condition of current and former internees of its reeducation camps.

Feeling a special obligation to certain groups of Vietnamese, during the 1980’s the U.S. government developed programs to encourage immigration of Vietnamese children of American servicemen, families of those children, and former employees of the South Vietnamese and U.S. government and their families. In 1984, U.S. secretary of state Schultz, GeorgeGeorge Schultz negotiated an agreement to allow members of these groups to come to the United States. However, the Vietnamese government dragged its feet in signing onto the program and permitting its people to leave the country legally. While some Amerasians;VietnameseAmerasian children were allowed to depart, adults who had served time in reeducation camps were usually blocked from leaving, frequently as a result of inordinately complicated bureaucratic requirements. Eventually, however, back-and-forth negotiations between the U.S. and Vietnamese governments resulted in passage by the U.S. Congress of a new law, the Released Re-education Detainee Program, in July, 1989. Under the provisions of that law, Vietnamese who had spent at least three years in reeducation camps were eligible for expedited processing to emigrate to the United States.

Members of a family of Vietnamese refugees who fled Vietnam in 1989. As stateless refugees, they had to spend many years in a Philippines refugee camp before they reached the United States, where they finally achieved legal immigrant status in 2005. Here, the father holds the document certifying their legal immigrant status.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

The Released Re-education Detainee Program quickly became known as Humanitarian Operation. Frequently this term was used to designate the efforts to resettle former internees as well as those designed to assist children of American servicemen. Both initiatives were particularly successful. Through the five years following passage of the law, the number of individuals in these categories taking advantage of the program increased steadily.

By 1994, when the program expired, more than 70,000 former internees and their families, as well as thousands of Amerasian children and their families, had resettled in the United States. It is estimated that more than 160,000 people entered the United States under the provisions of these programs. Ten years later, the U.S. government began negotiations to resurrect Humanitarian Operation initiatives to assist Vietnamese who had been eligible for these programs but had not been able to take advantage of them. Leading this new initiative was U.S. senator McCain, JohnJohn McCain, who had been a prisoner of war in Vietnam for more than five years.[a]Released Re-education Detainee Program[Released Reeducation Detainees Program]Humanitarian Operation

Further Reading
  • Chan, Sucheng, ed. The Vietnamese American 1.5 Generation: Stories of War, Revolution, Flight, and New Beginnings. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006.
  • Do, Hien Duc. The Vietnamese Americans. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.
  • Nguyen, Kien. The Unwanted. Boston: Back Bay Books, 2001.
  • Zhou, Min, and Carl L. Bankston III. Growing Up American: How Vietnamese Children Adapt to Life in the United States. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1998.

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