A Vietnamese man who first came to Australia more than 30 years ago as a refugee has been recognized at Australia’s premier literary awards. Anh Do, a comedian and author, won three awards for his book, The Happiest Refugee. It tells the story of a refugee family’s perilous escape from the war in Vietnam in the late 1970s.
Attacked by pirates during their escape from repression in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Anh Do and his family were rescued by a German merchant ship and taken to a refugee camp in Malaysia.
His uncles had fought alongside Australian soldiers in the conflict, making the family possible targets for retribution.
They were eventually granted permission to resettle in Australia and Do was two when his family arrived to start a new life in 1980.
The story is told in his autobiography The Happiest Refugee, which has been honored at the Australian Book Industry Awards in Melbourne where it was chosen as the nation’s Book of the Year.
Do says it details his family’s perilous escape from Vietnam.
“Basically my uncles fought alongside Aussie soldiers in the Vietnam War,” he said. “So after the war finished my family were persecuted and they were in danger. One of my uncles was actually a sapper who cleared land mines for Anzacs, Australian soldiers, and we had to flee Vietnam. There were 40 of us on a 9-meter fishing boat. We were at sea for five days, a very perilous journey. We were attacked by pirates twice.”
Do, who is also a successful stand-up comedian, plans to turn the Happy Refugee into a movie.
Between 1975 and 1994, more than 110,000 Vietnamese refugees were allowed to settle in Australia. Thousands more have been granted visas as part of family reunion programs. Vietnamese Australians are often highly represented in universities and many professions and are generally regarded as part of Australia’s multicultural success story.
However, Do says that over the years his adopted home has become less welcoming to outsiders.
“The attitude has probably changed slightly,” said Do. “I think with the Vietnam War and all the graphic images of the Vietnam War being beamed, you know, into homes during the Vietnam War, I think Australians were a bit more welcoming of the Vietnamese refugees than the refugees then the refugees who are turning up today.”
The Australian government grants visas to about 13,000 refugees, annually, under various international treaties. This week Canberra signed a controversial deal to send hundreds of asylum seekers to Malaysia in exchange for 4,000 long-term refugees. It is part of a scheme that aims to combat human traffickers that are responsible for a steady flow of unauthorized migrants arriving by boat in Australia’s remote northern waters.