A true story of a refugee

Minh Le To escape the hard-line communist regime, many Vietnamese people left their home country in pursuit for freedom from 1975-1995. I left Vietnam in the summer of 1979 by boat. I was supposed to leave with my dad, but the plan did not go well, so I


by Minh Le

To escape the hard-line communist regime, many Vietnamese people left their home country in pursuit for freedom from 1975-1995. I left Vietnam in the summer of 1979 by boat. I was supposed to leave with my dad, but the plan did not go well, so I went by myself.

I was 12 at that time. There were no familiar faces in this boat, and I did not know that I would never see my dad again after that day.

About 36 people were hidden in the bottom of a small wooden boat without much air circulation, no food and limited water. After three days at the sea, everyone was starving, sea sick and exhausted. The boat was not designed to be used in the sea, so it started to leak. We all thought we would die that night. Luckily, around 5 p.m., a small fishing boat found us and helped transport us to the shore. Our boat sank soon after that.

I arrived in Thailand and stayed at Songkhla United Nations refugee camp. I was young and did not think too much. But I could feel the worries from adults around me. They did not know what country would accept them, when they could start a new life, what their future looked like or when could they see their family members again. At that time, the hope to see family members who were still in Vietnam was very dim.

After nine months staying at the refugee camp, the Canadian government accepted my application. Everyone at the refugee camp congratulated me and told me that Canada was a great country. I was transferred to another camp in Bangkok for one month before flying to Canada.

I clearly remember the night I stepped onto a 747 aircraft. I had never been in an airplane before so it was quite an experience. I was so happy and so excited to go to the second largest country in the world and believed it is one of the most beautiful and happiest countries in the world.

I arrived in Edmonton in May 1980 and stayed at a military camp. The thing I remember the most is how cold the air was. I could see my breath! The volunteers gave me warm clothing and food. I felt very blessed by the new country. I eventually settled in with a relative’s family, who came to Canada a few years before me. The relative’s family was able to take care of me without government assistance.

At that time, many more refugees came to Edmonton every week. I remember that year, the relative’s family hosted a welcome party almost every week to welcome newcomers. At the party, people shared their stories, asked questions, and got help with many issues to help them to settle in. Many of these “newcomers” now became good friends to the relative’s family.

In 1991, I graduated from University of Alberta with an engineering degree. Then I moved to Whitehorse, Yukon to start my adult life. Things were difficult at first. I used to stand trembling under the winter cold to wait for my bus, used to live in a small basement with little heat, and used to take a second job as a dishwasher or a janitor.

But all hard work was paid off. With some money saved up, I went back to Vietnam to visit my mother and my sister for the first time after 13 years apart. But it was too sad that my dad could not wait for me and had passed away a few days before.

On this trip I also met my future wife. I sponsored my wife to Canada, and with hard work, we were able to put down some money to purchase our first house in Whitehorse.

Our first son was born in 1996. I was so happy. I have fulfilled my dream. I now have a home-sweet-home, a stable job and a happy family.

Minh Le now lives in Kelowna. This article is submitted by Yukon Cares, a group working towards bringing a Syrian refugee family to the territory.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Two people walk up the stairs past an advance polling sign at the Canda Games Centre on April 4. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
April 12 is polling day: Here’s how to vote

If in doubt, electionsyukon.ca has an address-to-riding tool

Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon addressing media at a press conference on April 8. The territorial election is on April 12. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Getting to know Currie Dixon and the Yukon Party platform

A closer look at the party leader and promises on the campaign trail

Yukon NDP leader Kate White, surrounded by socially distanced candidates, announces her platform in Whitehorse on March 29. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Getting to know Kate White and the Yukon NDP Platform

A detailed look at the NDP platform and Kate White’s leadership campaign this election

Crystal Schick/Yukon News
Sandy Silver announces the territorial election in Whitehorse. Silver is seeking a second term as premier and third term as Klondike MLA. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Getting to know Sandy Silver and the Yukon Liberal platform

Yukon Liberal Leader Sandy Silver is vying for a second term as… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
This week at city hall

A look at issues discussed by Whitehorse city council at its April 6 meeting.

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Yukon RCMP reported a child pornography-related arrest on April 1. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press file)
Whitehorse man arrested on child pornography charges

The 43-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The postponed 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been rescheduled for Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
New dates set for Arctic Winter Games

Wood Buffalo, Alta. will host event Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023

Victoria Gold Corp. has contributed $1 million to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun after six months of production at the Eagle Gold Mine. (Submitted/Victoria Gold Corp.)
Victoria Gold contributes $1 million to First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun

Victoria Gold signed a Comprehensive Cooperation and Benefits Agreement in 2011

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks to media in Whitehorse on October 30, 2020. Hanley is now encouraging Yukon to continue following health regulations, noting it could still be some time before changes to restrictions are made. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
No active COVID cases in Yukon

Hanley highlights concerns over variants, encourages vaccinations

Most Read