Lessons of Refugee Survival
J. Pete Fuentecilla

Mekong Circle International
New York, NY


When the Pathet Lao won control of Laos in 1975, waves of lowland Lao and Hmong, uncertain and fearful of their future under the new rulers, fled the country. It is estimated that 10 percent of the inhabitants, or some 350,000, settled in Thailand, the USA, Canada, Australia, France, and other countries. The migration lasted over 10 years.

The first wave was composed of the elite -- former government and military personnel and merchants. Among the first wave were Lao lowland nurses, the products of the first private school of nursing operated by a non-governmental organization managing a health care program in the country. The author was an instructor in that school. These nurses represented a sector of a small population of Lao possessing skills of value and middle-level education. As such they composed a distinct segment of the refugees, a majority of whom were uneducated Lao farmers and Hmong tribes people.

This paper will describe the circumstance of their migration to and settlement in the USA. Their experience will be compared with demographically similar and dissimilar refugees in the USA, not only from Laos but also from Vietnam and Cambodia. (All three countries saw the forced migration of large numbers of their inhabitants during the same period).