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Strangers at the Gate

Strangers at the Gate: The 'Boat People's' First Ten Years in Canada

Morton Beiser
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 224
  • Book Info
    Strangers at the Gate
    Book Description:

    Describes Beiser's ten-year study of 1,300 Boat People admitted to Canada between 1979 and 1981 and chronicles the former refugees' struggles to establish themselves in their new environment. A remarkable study with profoundly human dimensions.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8023-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface: The Costs and Benefits of Compassion
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-2)
  5. ONE Adapting in a New World
    (pp. 3-9)

    Li Wuchin, a fifty-year-old, soft-spoken Chinese whose lined face and dignified bearing suggest a man of substance, was an early resettlement casualty. In the old Saigon, Mr Li (Southeast Asians usually place their family name first) had factories, properties, and servants. The post-1975 communist government stripped them all away. No longer a rich man, he was forced to send his wife and family into the streets to cook and sell titbits to passers-by. To ensure his capitalist cleansing, he was sent to a ‘re-education camp.’ After his release, he managed to escape the country with his family. In January 1980,...

  6. TWO Where Did the Refugees Come From?
    (pp. 10-19)

    Squeezed onto a stubby peninsula in the South China Sea between China and India, the tiny countries of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia have been battled over and fought in for two thousand years.

    The political division between North and South is relatively recent; its cultural antecedents are much older. The Vietnamese themselves have long distinguished between the North (Bac Ky), with Hanoi as its cultural centre, the central region, with its traditional royal capital of Hue, and the South (Nam Ky), with Saigon, now officially called Ho Chi Minh City, as its hub. The North is dominated by groups culturally...

  7. THREE Southeast Asian Refugees in Canada: Forced to Rely on the Kindness of Others
    (pp. 20-53)

    Almost two million people fled the Southeast Asian peninsula between 1975 and 1980. Public discourse often relies on mottoes to encapsulate events. Despite the fact that more people left Southeast Asia by land routes than by the sea, the Southeast Asian refugees will probably always be remembered as the ‘Boat People.’

    Geography dictated some destinations. Cambodians, whose country shares a border with Thailand, made their way to that country by foot. Laotians sometimes used a route through Cambodia to Thailand, as did Vietnamese who had to cross the Mekong River along the way. Of the 900,000 people who did leave...

  8. FOUR Migration, Resettlement, and Mental Health: Models and Measures
    (pp. 54-80)

    Li Wuchin, the fifty-year-old former industrialist from Vietnam, tried to kill himself by slashing his throat with an ice-pick. Another employee, who arrived for his shift earlier than usual on that particular morning, found his fellow worker on the floor and called an ambulance. The hospital gave Mr Li blood transfusions, sewed up his wounds, and kept him under observation for a few days. At the time of discharge, the hospital doctors referred him to a local mental health centre for treatment of what they diagnosed as a major depressive disorder.

    The British Columbia courts judged the Vietnamese carpenter Nguyen...

  9. FIVE How Much Disorder and Who Is at Risk?
    (pp. 81-94)

    This chapter explores a number of questions: How much mental disorder did refugees have and how did these figures compare with rates for resident Canadians? Who developed a disorder, who did not, and why the difference? Why did some people who developed disorders recover, while others did not?

    Depression is one of the most common of the mental disorders: at any given moment, it compromises the day-to-day functioning of 5 to 8 per cent of the population (Robins et al., 1984 Myers et al., 1984). In 1981, 6.4 per cent of the refugees and 5.2 per cent of the age-...

  10. SIX The Stresses of Resettlement
    (pp. 95-111)

    Before coming to Canada, the exiles suffered oppression and loss in their home countries, fear and danger during flight, and the squalor and uncertainty of life in refugee camps. Figure 4.1 acknowledges that premigration stressors may have a lasting effect on refugee mental health. For a number of reasons, however, the Refugee Resettlement Project (RRP) interviews de-emphasized pre-migration experiences. First, we wanted to avoid scratching at psychic wounds that might be just beginning to heal in the air of newly acquired safety. Second, we were interested in producing results with practical or policy implications. Since receiving countries can do more...

  11. SEVEN Social Support and Mental Health
    (pp. 112-123)

    Social support is difficult to categorize. Although figure 4.3 describes family and significant social groupings as social resources, it would be equally logical to call their absence the stress of loneliness.

    Debates about categories are of no help to Nguyen Bich, the Vietnamese carpenter. Had he been able to bring his wife and children to Canada, he would never have met Anh My and ended up killing her. In theory, tragedies like Bich’s should have been preventable. According to government guidelines, family unification is the cornerstone of immigration policy. Under the Immigration Act, any Canadian or permanent resident who is...

  12. EIGHT Splitting Time to Handle Stress
    (pp. 124-145)

    Ideas about time and its passing are probably universal (Leach, 1961). However, factors like personal circumstance, culture, and psychological need affect the relative importance of past, present, and future, as well as the relationships among them. For example, preoccupation with the future and inattention to the past seem the ‘natural’ state of youth (Cottle, 1976). By middle age, contemplating the past is as important as forecasting the future.

    Culture adds another gloss to the perception of time. White North Americans, who are the descendants of immigrants and pioneers, deemphasize the past: at best, it is no longer useful; at worst,...

  13. NINE Profiles of Success
    (pp. 146-163)

    The painter Raoul Dufy draws attention to an object by leaving it out. In some of Dufy’s canvases, the object – a sail on a boat, or a table – is a piece of blank canvas. Only the painted wall behind it and the objects placed on it give the table definition; only the backdrop of sky and water give the sail its substance. In his novelThe World According to Garp(1978), John Irving details a family’s comings and goings in the weeks following a bizarre accident. Lulled at first by mundane description, the reader slowly becomes uneasy, then...

  14. TEN Please See Screaming
    (pp. 164-186)

    Fifteen years after the height of the ‘Boat People’ crisis, the wars in Bosnia were major front-page news, and the refugees of those wars, the major human interest stories. On 13 July 1995, Canada’s national newspaper, theGlobe and Mail, carried a front-page account about the fall of Sreberenica to the Bosnian Serbs. The story described Serb soldiers herding Muslim women onto buses at gunpoint. The women were screaming because they had been separated from their husbands and sons, who were being kept behind. The women apparently knew what the rest of the world was to learn months later. The...

  15. References
    (pp. 187-208)
  16. Index
    (pp. 209-214)