Tran Thi Thanh Loan, her husband, Ho Trung Loi, and their 4 children, aged 4-16, were among 46 Vietnamese asylum seekers intercepted by the Australian navy in March 2015. Held at sea for almost a month, they underwent “enhanced screening” by Australian officials, and having been found not to warrant protection, were forcibly returned on an Australian navy ship after the Australian Government received written assurance from its Vietnamese counterpart that returnees would not be punished for helping to organise an “illegal” departure.
Mr Loi was subsequently sentenced to 2 years’ jail – 7 hours from the family home – while Mrs Loan received a 3-year term, which she appealed on the basis of being the sole carer of her children as her extended family could not afford to look after them. After losing her appeal in mid-2016, the children were told to leave school and go to an orphanage.
It was then that we first became involved in helping to support this family: More than 100 donors from all walks of life contributed a total of $11,000 in 1 month – enough to enable their grandfather to look after the children for 2 years and also help the parents get back on their feet after their release from jail.
For more information, please see https://www.gofundme.com/NeverTearUsApart and https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/24/were-a-disparate-group-of-australians-doing-the-work-our-government-wont
Mrs Loan was eventually granted a temporary reprieve, her sentence delayed until her husband’s release, and was able to earn US$5-$10 a day selling fruit. But after receiving police threats that she would be beaten in jail for speaking out to foreigners, Mrs Loan and her children made a second attempt to flee Vietnam for Australia by boat at the end of January 2017 – without telling us – as part of a group of 18 asylum seekers, including 12 children.
After more than a week at sea, their boat engine began to fail, and drifted into Indonesian waters, where the boat started to sink. Fortunate to be rescued off the Java coast by Indonesian authorities, the 3 families lost all their possessions.
Having been interviewed twice by the UNHCR, they were eventually granted refugee status while in detention in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 5 May 2017. They are now awaiting resettlement in a third country, which could still take a long time.
Meanwhile, Mr Loi had been moved to a harsher prison in the Vietnamese jungle, where he was severely mistreated and threatened never to be released unless his family returned. The Vietnamese court had also revoked its deferral of Mrs Loan’s sentence, meaning that if she would have been returned to Vietnam, she would have been sent straight to jail: As a repeat offender, she could have received a sentence of up to 15 years under the revised Vietnamese Penal Code.
Mr Loi was finally released in late May 2017 after being forced to sign a document stating that he had not been mistreated. Frequent beatings have damaged his sight in one eye; he suffered a stroke; his lungs and kidneys were damaged, and he lost considerable weight. He is now seeking medical treatment – we have managed to send him some money raised through the original crowd fund to help with his medical care – and is under police watch for the next 6 months, unable to leave his local area without permission.
For more information please see http://www.smh.com.au/world/turned-back-by-australia-vietnamese-recognised-as-refugees-in-indonesia-20170608-gwn475.html