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Refugee tide stirs one man’s memories

In reflective mood: Jimmy Diep

As the nations of Europe struggle to cope with a tide of refugees from the Middle East, Bermuda’s own Jimmy Diep can reflect on the fears and hardship that come with the search for a new home.

“I feel so sorry for them, because the situation now is getting worse and worse because of the war,” Mr Diep told The Royal Gazette.

“It’s not easy. The change is complete, especially the new culture of the country; it’s completely different. When you have to adjust to this new life there, especially for people with families, it’s really hard.”

Mr Diep is one of five refugees from Vietnam that were selected in 1980 to be brought to the Island from a camp where they were being held in Hong Kong.

Emigrants choose to move elsewhere; for refugees the destination is typically uncertain, and in Mr Diep’s case it was pure fluke.

He was among the Vietnamese refugees who fled the country in boats, known at the time as “boat people”.

It was a dangerous recourse for desperate people, just as today’s refugees cross to Europe at tremendous risk.

Ultimately, Mr Diep and others were rescued in the South China Sea by a Bermuda-registered ship.

“Most of us had nothing left,” he recalled.

“We ran on the boat; that’s all.”

In the end, a small number were selected to come to Bermuda.

“I found a new home — it was hard, especially to me. If you live in an Asian culture, it’s very difficult to change,” he said. “There are some times you wake up and don’t know where you are.”

With tens of thousands streaming into Europe via the Balkans, not all have been welcoming of the hordes from Syria — but refugees are being divided among different states.

“The thing I feel really good about is Germany and Austria, the way they open their arms to the people,” Mr Diep said. “That’s a really good feeling.”

Accepted into Bermuda, Mr Diep gradually found a new life and settled as the manager of the Rubis Van Buren gas station in Flatts.

The latest news shows clashes with police and barriers being erected in parts of Europe where authorities say they are overwhelmed by asylum seekers. But refugees can be good for the economy, especially in countries with ageing populations.

“America and Canada, most refugees do pretty good over there,” Mr Diep said, himself on a break from work. “They can build up the economy and create jobs.”

•Overseas, Page 26