Boat People SOS Committee, a San Diego-based relief group, donated $40,000 Tuesday toward an international effort to rescue hundreds of people fleeing Vietnam by sea.
Nguyen-Huu Xuong, chairman of the SOS Committee, with headquarters in Linda Vista, said the $40,000 will help pay for the operation of a hospital ship. The ship recently took on board 264 Vietnamese boat people during a 12-day operation in the South China Sea.
"Ninety percent of the Vietnamese people in the United States . . . are boat people themselves, ex-boat people," Xuong said. "And since they are close to the people who are leaving now, they want to do anything they can to help those people. They don't want the new people to suffer like they did before."
But Xuong and leaders of two other relief organizations from France and West Germany said Tuesday they need more help--particularly visas for passage in the United States, Canada or Europe--to cope with the flow of refugees from Vietnam, which they called the "greatest exodus in history."
And they issued an appeal for the United States to supply visas for many of the people who are currently on the hospital ship. The relief groups have 100 visas, which means 164 of those rescued at sea have no official place to go.
"This is the crisis moment," said Rupert Neudeck, president of Comite Cap Anamur, the West German group. "Governments are trembling. They know they have to do something. They can't leave (the refugees) on the ship there."
Neudeck said Cap Anamur has been working with the French relief agency Medecins du Monde since 1979 to rescue 9,507 Vietnamese boat people in the South China Sea. The groups suspended the operation of the hospital ship in 1982, but resumed the rescues last year when an estimated 24,316 Vietnamese refugees--usually those with ties to the former government--left their country on overcrowded fishing ships and other small vessels, said Neudeck, a West German radio journalist who flew to San Diego for Tuesday's press conference.
Xuong said the San Diego-based SOS Committee donated $70,000 for the hospital ship last year, and has raised another $60,000, including the $40,000 turned over Tuesday. The money comes from fund-raising activities in Vietnamese communities in the United States, Canada and Australia, Xuong said.
Neudeck said the latest venture by the hospital ship into the South China Sea was between March 18 and 30, when it took on the 264 people. The ship, which costs $5,000 a day to operate, will dock in Singapore April 10.
If a refuge has a visa, he then will be accepted to "transit camps" in Singapore and the Philippines to wait six months to a year before traveling to his new home, said Neudeck.
Alain Deloche, president of Medecins du Monde, was also present for Tuesday's press conference with the SOS Committee. Deloche is a professor of cardiac surgery at the University of Paris.