HKFP History Travel & Transport

HKFP Lens: In search of a new life – gov’t archive photos show Vietnamese boat refugees arriving in Hong Kong

A historical photography series released by the government documents the different types of Vietnamese refugee boats arriving in Hong Kong between 1979 and 1981.
Vietnamese refugee boats

Vietnamese Refugee Boat, 1979. Photo: Public Records Office, Government Records Service.

The shots were released from the archival records of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force.
vietnamese refugee boat

The engine of a Vietnamese Refugee Boat suspected of Chinese Origin, 1979. Photo: Public Records Office, Government Records Service.

Following the Fall of Saigon in 1975, which marked the end of the 20-year-long Vietnam War, more than 200,000 Vietnamese refugees made the perilous journey across the Pacific Ocean to Hong Kong in crowded boats, thus coining the term “Vietnamese boat people.”
Vietnamese refugee boats

Vietnamese Refugee Boat, 1979. Photo: Public Records Office, Government Records Service.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, a third of those who made the dangerous voyage died at sea.
Vietnamese refugee boats

Vietnamese Refugee Boat, 1979. Photo: Public Records Office, Government Records Service.

Hong Kong had initially declared itself a “port of first asylum” for refugees, however, the influx of migrants soon triggered a 25-year-long crisis.
Vietnamese refugee boats

Vietnamese Refugee Boat, 1979. Photo: Public Records Office, Government Records Service.

In the 1980s and 90s, thousands were detained in squalid refugee camps with poor sanitation and rationed supplies, leading to riots among inmates.
Vietnamese refugee boats

Vietnamese Refugee Boat, 1979. Photo: Public Records Office, Government Records Service.

Asylum seekers today face tough refugee screening procedures – between 2014 and 2017, only 0.7 per cent of applications in Hong Kong were accepted on the grounds of “non-refoulement,” or torture.
Vietnamese refugee boats

Vietnamese Refugee Boat, 1979. Photo: Public Records Office, Government Records Service.

Vietnamese refugee boats

The engine of a Vietnamese Refugee Boat, 1979. Photo: Public Records Office, Government Records Service.

Vietnamese refugee boats

The engine of a Vietnamese Refugee Boat, 1979. Photo: Public Records Office, Government Records Service.

Vietnamese refugee boats

Vietnamese Refugee Boat suspected of Chinese Origin, 1979. Photo: Public Records Office, Government Records Service.

Vietnamese refugee boats

Vietnamese Refugee Boat suspected of Chinese Origin, 1979. Photo: Public Records Office, Government Records Service.

Vietnamese refugee boats

Vietnamese Refugee Boat suspected of Chinese Origin, 1979. Photo: Public Records Office, Government Records Service.

Vietnamese refugee boats

Vietnamese Refugee Boat suspected of Chinese Origin, 1979. Photo: Public Records Office, Government Records Service.

Vietnamese refugee boats

Vietnamese Refugee Boat suspected of Chinese Origin, 1979. Photo: Public Records Office, Government Records Service.

Vietnamese refugee boats

Vietnamese Refugee Boat suspected of Chinese Origin, 1979. Photo: Public Records Office, Government Records Service.

Vietnamese refugee boats

Vietnamese Refugee Boat (Vietnamese-style Fishing Canoe “Thuyen Ghe”), 1981. Photo: Public Records Office, Government Records Service.

Vietnamese refugee boats

Vietnamese Refugee Boat (Vietnamese-style Fishing Canoe “Thuyen Ghe”), 1981. Photo: Public Records Office, Government Records Service.

HKFP Lens: In search of a new life - gov't archive photos show Vietnamese boat refugees arriving in Hong Kong