Running on Empty: Canada and the Indochinese Refugees 1975-1980

Nov 5, 2018 | Event Summary

On October 29, 2018, CIC Vancouver, in partnership with the Simon Fraser University David See-Chai Lam Centre for International Communication, held a public speaking event on Canada’s response to the Indochinese refugee crisis during the late 1970s to early 1980s. This discussion featured Mohammed Alsaleh, one of the first Syrian refugees arriving to Canada under the private sponsorship program and the BC trainer for the Refuge Sponsorship Training Program, who gave an account of his experience as a refugee during a contemporary global refugee crisis. Alongside Mohammed were Michael Molloy and David Ritchie, former Canadian foreign service officers who experienced the crisis on the ground and from Ottawa. Michael recently co-wrote “Running on Empty,” which outlined his experience during the Indochinese crisis, an experience he expertly summarized to an at-capacity room on October 29th. Amidst the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, and the increase in security and climate-related migrancy, the CIC Vancouver and David See-Chai Lam Centre were pleased to host this topical event, and hear from three individuals, all of whom have themselves experienced the refugee system and gone to extreme lengths to help people in their greatest time of need.

Event Description
In 1979, Canada opened its doors to thousands of Indochinese refugees fleeing their homelands, often at enormous peril. Eventually, over 100,000 refugees established new lives in Canada to the long-term benefit of this country. The story of how Canada launched this major refugee program is told in Running on Empty: Canada and the Indochinese Refugees, 1975-1980. The book was written by four retired federal immigration officials. It describes the efforts of their colleagues working under difficult conditions in Indochinese refugee camps and in Canadian communities to resettle those displaced by war and oppression. The lessons learned and new programs launched in this Indochinese refugee movement informed later refugee movements to Canada.

Key Takeaways
• The Canadian refugee intake system was able to adapt to extreme circumstances and allowed on-the-ground officers autonomy to adequately address the ongoing crisis within the framework of Canadian policy.
• The Canadian model of private sponsorship went a long way to partnering the private sector with government assistance to meet refugee acceptance quotas and private sponsorship continues to be an important model for handling today’s refugee crises.
• Canada demonstrated a remarkable capacity for mobilizing and dispatching resettlement officers to various South East Asian countries, including remote islands in the South China Sea. In addition to fulfilling a large-scale humanitarian mission, the refugee resettlement effort successfully advanced Canada’s “quiet diplomacy” strategy.

Concluding Remarks
The tone of the panel discussion was remarkably positive, and all three panel members agreed that despite the global negativity surrounding migrancy and refugees, there remains cause for hope and optimism.

Speaker’s Bio
Michael Molloy: Co-author of “Running on Empty: Canada and the Indochinese Refugee Movement 1975-80”, has 40 years’ experience in international and refugee affairs. He was Ambassador to Jordan (1996-2000) and Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (2000-03). In 1979 and 1980 he coordinated the Indochinese refugee program that brought 60,000 refugees to Canada.

David Ritchie: As a Foreign Service Officer (1974-89), David Ritchie served in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India & Sri Lanka, The Netherlands, Singapore, Malaysia & Indonesia, Austria and the USA. As a refugee specialist he worked extensively on the Indochinese Refugee Program in Southeast Asia.

Mohammed Alsaleh: Since arriving in Canada as a Syrian refugee, Mohammed Alsaleh a former medical student, has been building a new life in Vancouver as an advocate and public speaker; raising awareness and helping other newcomers settle in British Columbia. Currently, he is the BC Trainer for The Refugee Sponsorship Training Program (RSTP). Mohammed recently received the 2018 RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award.