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Steps Taken by 5,000 for Refugee Aid

Charity: Organizers of walk-a-thon expect to collect $100,000 for Vietnamese held at detention camps in Philippines.

August 26, 1996|RENEE TAWA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FOUNTAIN VALLEY — Hai Le remembers what it was like to live in a cramped, rickety shack that collapsed with each tropical storm at his refugee camp in Malaysia--and to feel forgotten by the world.

On Sunday, Le, now a 30-year-old Anaheim resident, was among about 5,000 people who turned out for a walk-a-thon at Mile Square Regional Park to raise money for Vietnamese refugees at detention centers in the Philippines.

In baseball cap and jeans, Le looked around at the throng of people in the blazing sun, some of them waving banners, hand-made signs or American flags. A small plane flew overhead, towing a Vietnamese flag. Thousands of participants chanted and sang Vietnamese songs as they passed joggers and family picnics on a 4-mile route through the park.

"I didn't know there was this kind of support, but I was hoping," said Le, an industrial technician. "When you're there, you feel no one knows you're there. You feel hopeless."

Organizers expected Sunday's event to raise about $100,000 for the Vietnamese Refugees Relief Fund through pledges. The walk-a-thon was one of several fund-raising events for the cause sponsored by Vietnamese communities in the United States, Australia and Canada.

Since 1989, the United Nations has spent about $350 million on the refugees and does not want to spend more. Under a 1989 plan, the United Nations in June started to close refugee camps across Southeast Asia, leaving the future of 31,000 Vietnamese migrants in doubt.

Thailand, Indonesia and Hong Kong have started forcibly shipping the refugees back to Vietnam. The Philippines has turned the camps over to the Catholic church, which needs money to support programs for the refugees.

The Fountain Valley event was organized by 23 groups, including Project Ngoc, a Vietnamese refugees support group at UC Irvine.

"Americans say it's an immigration issue, but we say no, it's about humanity," said Project Ngoc spokeswoman Nga Nguyen. "We are uniting families."

Thousands of migrants who fled Vietnam in search of a better life have languished in refugee camps, unable to receive political asylum and unwilling to go back home.

Part of the event's aim was to let the refugees know they are not forgotten, said Vu Lam, 26, a Cal State Fullerton senior, who arrived at the park at 7:30 a.m. so he could get a good spot for the kickoff rally.

"We want to give a hand to those who have sacrificed for freedom," he said.

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