A U.S. Welcome for Ukrainian Families Recalls Refugee Relocations of the Past

By Joseph Hogan

Ukrainians are fleeing their country by the millions to escape the Russian invasion, a mass exodus a U.N. official called “the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.”

What obligation do countries have to refugees from countries torn apart by war? It’s a question as important today as it was in 1975, when the United States evacuated 130,000 South Vietnamese allies during the fall of Saigon and brought them to this country to start new lives.

“For Vietnamese refugees in the ‘70s, we have a special responsibility,” Serena Parekh, a philosophy professor at Northeastern, told Retro Report. “You break it, you bought it. So, if you break a country, in essence, you’re responsible for the refugees who have lost their home, lost their ability to live safely in their home countries because of our actions.”

An image from RetroReport
APRIL 29, 1975 Refugees from South Vietnam and American civilians boarded helicopters on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Hancock during an evacuation before the fall of Saigon. (Photo: NavSource)

But some Vietnamese refugees, like Carolee Tran, who arrived in this country when she was 8, faced significant hardship and racism. Her name, GiaoUyen, was Americanized. “My father told us, “if they can’t say your name, they won’t think of you as a person,” she told us.

Today, as Afghan and Ukrainian migrants settle in the United States, we asked whether refugee resettlement is better now than it was for Vietnamese refugees 50 years ago, and what may be owed to people across the globe fleeing war, destruction and despair.

As Kenneth Quinn, a former ambassador and foreign service officer told us, “All societies are determined by answering that question: To whom do I have an obligation?”

Are you a teacher? Retro Report has a free lesson plan and student activity to help you teach about immigration and migration in middle and high school classrooms. You can also register for our free educator webinar “Tools for Teaching About Immigration and Migration” on April 13.

JOSEPH HOGAN is a producer at Retro Report. This article first appeared in Retro Report’s free weekly newsletter. Subscribe and receive lessons from history in your mailbox. Follow us on Twitter @RetroReport.