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Resettlement means misery and debt for boat people

River beautification scheme leaves boat people vulnerable

A former boat man selling clothes on a street in Hue A former boat man selling clothes on a street in Hue
  • ucanews.com reporter, Hue
  • Vietnam
  • April 26, 2012
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Life for boat people on the Huong river in Thua Thien-Hue province was hardly prosperous. But for the 1,000 families who were moved onshore in a resettlement project that started in 2010, it has grown a great deal worse.

They now find themselves in cramped, inadequate conditions, with most of them facing spiraling debt.

Le Van Trang’s story is typical. “On our boat, we sold fish and poultry for a living,” he says. “Our three children went to school and played on the river banks.

“Now we live in a flat with one window and one door. It is falling apart. The roof leaks and cracks are appearing in the walls.

“Two of the children had to drop out of school. They work at a local market to support the family, earning 20,000 dong (US $1) each a day.

“I’ve hired a tricycle and now carry goods for a living. Most of my neighbors work as motorbike taxi drivers, street vendors, porters or bricklayers. Daily, we earn around 30,000 to 50,000 dong.

“Life is much worse now than it was in the past.”

Many of these families have lived on the Huong for generations. The  resettlement took place to curb pollution on the river and make way for a beautification project, which local authorities hope will attract more tourists.

But now the authorities concede that they have not done enough to equip the families for life on land; there are few jobs, no job creation schemes and the skills training programs that do exist are not well tailored to the boat peoples’ needs.

“My son and I are illiterate so we can’t go on the vocational courses,” says Dao Thi Man, a 40-year-old widow. Instead, she works as a restaurant dishwasher, making 50,000 dong a day for a 14-hour shift.

Her 16-year-old son catches fish and her daughter, 15, has dropped out of school to make a living from collecting waste off the streets. Between them, they manage to keep the two youngest children in school, but it is growing increasingly difficult.

“We’ve been living from hand to mouth since we were moved last August,” says Man. “We owe a local bank five million dong and we bought all our kitchen equipment and our other basic furniture on credit. We’re facing a mountain of debt.”
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