Images of desperate Afghans competing for spots on U.S. flights out of Kabul shocked the world this fall. For some, the sights evoke painful memories. Now many Vietnamese Americans are aiding people whose lives appear hauntingly similar to their own.
The U.S. final exit from Afghanistan was frantic. In the last two weeks of August, the United States evacuated 31,000 people from the Central Asian nation. Three-quarters were Afghans who had supported American military efforts. But many Afghan allies were left behind. They had no clear way out of the landlocked country under strict Taliban control.
Similarly, in recent history, many from Vietnam worked for years to escape brutal conditions in their homeland. These Vietnamese fled by boat, hoping to survive treacherous seas. Some spent time in “re-education camps”—retaliation for their allegiance to America during and after the Vietnam War.
The stories explain why many Vietnamese Americans see a refugee crisis arising from the departure of the U.S. military from Afghanistan.
Thuy Do remembers hearing how her parents tried to leave Saigon after Vietnam fell to communists in 1975. Then, as in September, the American military airlifted allies out as terror descended on a country.
It took years for Thuy Do’s family to escape. She was nine years old when they finally arrived in the United States with two sets of clothes apiece and just $300.
The memories drove Thuy Do and husband Jesse Robbins to assist Afghan refugees now. The couple is offering their rental home to resettlement groups for newly arriving Afghans.
“We were them 40 years ago,” Thuy Do says.
Some of the United States’ two million Vietnamese Americans are telling about their harrowing departures for the first time. Many are also spurred to donate to funds for housing, furniture, and legal assistance for newly arriving Afghans. Others offer first-hand guidance to refugees: how to shop at a supermarket, enroll kids in school, and drive a car in the United States.
The empathy of many Vietnamese Americans echoes Matthew 7:12: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”
Immigration attorney Thi Do was a boy when Saigon fell. His family set out by boat, hoping to reach a country that would accept them.
Thi Do’s family was forced back to sea by Thailand and Malaysia. They eventually reached a refugee camp in Indonesia.
Today, Thi Do lives in California and helps people fleeing persecution. Until now, nothing has reminded him so plainly of Vietnam. He says, “I see a lot of myself in those children who were running on the tarmac at the airport.”
Why? God often works in our hardships to make us able to comfort and support others in theirs. By connecting strangers through shared experience, He enables believers to share not only empathy but the gospel.