Lessons from the resettlement of 'good' and 'bad' Vietnamese forced migrants in Germany.


Hieu (pseudonym) embodies the 'good refugee' story. In 1979, he fled Vietnam by boat and eventually resettled in the Federal Republic of (West) Germany, as did many others (http://p.dw.com/p/4OUJ). He quickly learned German and adapted to his new life with the help of a sponsor family. Hieu completed his PhD in a science field, began working for a German corporation, and raised a family of grateful German citizens.

Lesser-known than the 'good refugee' figure that Hieu represents, 'bad refugees (https://vvww.nytimes.com/2018/05/19/opinion/sunday/john-kelly-refugees-immigration.html)', like Trinh, also give us much insight into what matters for the resettlement of foreigners.

Like Hieu, Trinh left Vietnam as a teenager. She received a labour contract to work in a Soviet-allied country in the 1980s as part of a solidarity exchange between socialist Vietnam and the Eastern Bloc. After the Berlin Wall fell (http://p.dw.com/p/LsQW) in 1989, Trinh hired a guide to help her cross the border into Germany to file for asylum. As with most of her fellow contract workers, however, Trinh found her asylum claims denied (https://books.google.com/books/about/Envisioning_Vietnamese_Migrants_in_Germa.html?id=esZRists3pEQ. The state had deemed her a bogus asylum-seeker and sent her deportation orders. Trinh eventually changed her legal status through a law that provided protection for parents of children born in Germany. Today, Trinh and her husband run a business in Berlin and are active in ethnic associations.

Despite their different starting points, both Hieu and Trinh have flourished in Berlin. What, then, do their stories teach us about trajectories of resettlement?

Key factors for successful resettlement

Drawing on in-depth interviews, as well as statistical and media sources, historian Frank Bosch and I studied the integration outcomes of Vietnamese in Germany. Our work contributed to a UNU-WIDER project, Forced Migration and Inequality (https://www.wider.unu.edu/node/135475/) which compared the resettlement of Vietnamese and Afghan refugees in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany. Based on our findings as well as insights from our colleagues on the project, we offer two observations about factors shaping resettlement.

First, the context that receives immigrants and refugees powerfully shapes their resettlement outcomes, beyond any cultural traits or capital they bring with them.

Specifically, the strength of the labour market into which migrants enter, their treatment by the government, and the presence of an ethnic community all impact their life chances.

Though sharing similar backgrounds, the Vietnamese refugees and contract workers we studied had divergent integration outcomes. On average, both migration...

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