FIVE thousand Catholic Vietnamese refugees have reached Haiphong after a mass flight from Communist-held parts of Northern Vietnam in junks, small boats and even rafts.
Most of the refugees, says British United Press, covered the last stage of their sea journey in French naval craft.
They had been picked up three miles out to sea after a storm in which an unknown number of the refugees-possibly hundredswere drowned. The refugees said when they landed that thousands of other Vietnamese Catholics in the
southern Red River Delta vicariates of Bui Chu and Phat Diem, both of which were overrun by Vietminh forces last June, also want to flee from Communist rule.
These Catholics and they themselves, according to the refugees, are the Vietnamese who decided to stay when they bad the chance to move to Hanoi for the big evacuation to Southern Indo-China at the time of the cease-fire.
Now that they want to leave they are finding that the only way open to them to French-held territory is by sea.
Many aboard the flimsy fleet encountered by the French naval craft were old men and women. Others were young mothers with new-born children.
As fast as the French sailors hauled these refugees from their boats and rafts, volunteers took the tiny vessels back towards the coast for more Vietnamese waiting their turn to reach French-held territory.
With them, most of the refugees carried all their worldly possessions. In a few cases even the family water buffalo had been hauled into a boat or even on to a raft.
THE CATHOLIC HERALD last week published a report from Fr. Patrick O'Connor that five Vietnamese Catholic 'villagers have been reported drowned and 380 missing in recent sea tragedies resulting from Communist Vietminh opposition to the people's departure from their zone.
"In desperation Catholic villagers blocked by the Vietminh from corning overland put out to sea in overloaded, flat-bottomed boats built for inland waterways. They made the venture despite typhoon weather," said Fr. O'Connor.
"Three boats, each carrying about 70 men, women and children, set out on October 4. One capsized in the rough seas. Seventeen people are known to have survived. Five bodies were washed ashore. The two other boats are missing.
"Another little flotilla of four boats left a week later. Only one reached Haiphong. The others are missing.
"Some attempts to leave by sea are successful. Early in October 27 boats carrying more than 1,000 Catholic peasants arrived in Haiphong."