PARIS – Mr. Vo Van Ai, l’ President of the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights urged Malaysia today not to tear down a memorial set up by former Vietnamese Boat People on the island of Pulau Bidong. The Malaysian government gave orders to destroy the memorial after receiving complaints from the Vietnamese government. The move is aimed to “preserve good relations” with Hanoi, according to Malaysian Foreign Ministry sources.
In a letter to Malaysian Premier Abdullah Ahmad Badwi, Vo Van Ai urged Malaysia to preserve the memorial which commemorates the hundreds of thousands of boat people who died fleeing their homeland in makeshift crafts after the communist victory in Vietnam in 1975. “This is not a political memorial”, said Vo Van Ai. “It is an expression of thanks by former boat people to the government and the people of Malaysia, to the Malaysian Red Crescent Society and to all those who gave them refuge in their hour of need. It is a commemoration to all those who died in their flight for freedom. It is a gesture of remembrance by the refugees who stayed here on their journey to asylum”.
The marble memorial was built at the request of former Vietnamese internees who are now resettled in the United States and Australia who visited the island in March 2005.
Vo Van Ai was a founder member of the France-based campaign ”A Ship for Vietnam” launched in 1978. Supported by prominent French and international personalities e.g. Jean-Paul Sartre, Raymond Aron, Eugene Ionesco, André Glucksmann, Claudie Broyelle, Jean Lacouture, Leonid Plyush, Lionel Jospin, Michel Rocard, Bernard Kouchner, Miloslav Rostropovitch etc. the campaign raised funds to charter a rescue ship for Vietnamese boat people, the “Ile de Lumiere”, which operated off the Malaysian coasts and brought thousands to safety on the island of Pulau Bidong.
At the height of the boat people’s exodus in 1979, some 55 people arrived every hour on the Malaysian shores. The United Nations estimated that at least half the people fleeing Vietnam were drowned or murdered by pirates on the South China seas. Between 1975 and 1991, a quarter of a million Vietnamese passed through the refugee camp on Pulau Bidong.
“This monument is part of the Vietnamese people’s memory. What happened in our history must be recorded, and Vietnam must come to terms with this”, said Vo Van Ai in his letter to the Malaysian Premier. “The Hanoi authorities should not use diplomatic pressure to try to erase the people’s memory by destroying this memorial”, he said.