Kids ‘orphaned’ as Vietnam jails parents over asylum bid


Ms Loan with her four children outside courthouse where her appeal against a three-year sentence was rejected.

12:00AM July 29, 2016

A Vietnamese failed asylum-seeker forcibly returned after Hanoi promised the Australian government it would not punish returnees will be jailed as early as this week and her four children sent to an orphanage after she lost an appeal against a three-year sentence.

Tran Thi Thanh Loan had appealed to the court for leniency on the basis her husband was already serving a two-year jail sentence, leaving her the sole carer of their four children, aged four to 16.

The local district attorney prosecuting the case also supported Ms Loan’s appeal for probation, but the court last Friday rejected the appeal and ordered her to serve her sentence in full for helping organise an illegal departure in the family-owned fishing boat.

Neither she nor her husband were charged with people-smuggling, and both have denied suggestions they sought to profit from the journey, which included only family members and close friends.

Ms Loan yesterday told The Australian no one in her family could afford to look after her children.

“They have been crying a lot and clinging on to me,” she said.

“My youngest child keeps saying ‘Mummy, don’t go’. My older children are worried. They feel the pressure and are scared of having neither parent around. They have asked if they can be sent to prison with me.”

“The Australian side promised us no imprisonment and livelihood opportunity, Vietnam promised the same, but now my husband is already paying the price. I’m worried because the oldest child is still not old enough to take care of her siblings.”

Ms Loan said she had not been given a date for her incarceration and was told only that “authorities will come when they come”.

Earlier this month her husband was transferred to a prison seven hours’ drive from where the family lives.

He is not due for release until mid-2017.

Ms Loan’s lawyer, Vo An Don, described the sentence as “cruel and inhumane”. “Somebody told me if a free country out there accepts Vietnamese refugees, everyone would go,” Mr Don said. “Even the electric pole, if it could walk, it would leave too. Life in our country is backward, impoverished, and deprived of freedom.”

Ms Loan said her family left because of a state seizure of family land, loss of livelihood from Chinese incursions into fishing grounds and institutionalised discrimination against Catholics.

They were among 92 Vietnamese asylum-seekers intercepted in two separate incidents by the Australian navy last year.

All were assessed at sea, found not to warrant protection, and returned to Vietnam on the written assurance of that government “there would not be any retribution for their illegal departure”.

However, eight of the 92 Vietnamese returned by Australia have since been convicted and sentenced to jail for variously buying provisions and convincing family and friends to join the voyage. None have been convicted of people-smuggling.

Last month, a further 21 Vietnamese were returned by Australian authorities after being intercepted in the Timor Sea, despite evidence Vietnam did not honour its undertaking.

Australian authorities say all those returned were fairly assessed. But Ms Loan says no translator was provided, none of her group of 46 spoke English and it was only on reaching Vung Tau port that they realised they were being returned.

First published in The Australian, 29/07/16