THE Vietnamese Boat People website puts it thus: “Between 1975 to 1992, almost two million Vietnamese risked their lives to flee oppression and hardship after the Vietnam War, in one of the largest mass exoduses in modern history.

“Escaping by boat, many were captured and brutally punished, and hundreds of thousands died along the journey”.

By the end of 1978, the situation had reached alarming proportions. In April 1979, more than 25,000 boat-people had arrived in other countries in south-east Asia, and tens of thousands had reached Thailand.

The increasingly grave matter was discussed by the UN and world leaders, and in May 1979 the Orderly Departure Program was signed by the Vietnamese government and the UN High Commission for Refugees, paving the way for people to leave Vietnam in a safe and orderly manner.

Britain had already been opening its doors: 346 boat people had been allowed in in October 1978. In late May, 1979, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said Britain would offer a home to 982 refugees aboard a vessel which had sailed into Hong Kong harbour; Britain was also prepared to give a home to 300 boat people on board a British vessel moored off Taiwan, if no other country decided to take them.

That September, the Herald reported that a family of 13, including a 14-year-old boy with polio, who had been forced at gunpoint to leave Vietnam, were among the first group of refugees to arrive in Scotland.

The 41-strong group, who had survived a 20-day sea journey to Hong Kong, sat down to a meal provided by the Chinese community in Edinburgh. Their home for at least the next three months, until alternative accommodation was found, was the Good Shepherd Centre run by the Save the Children Fund in Colinton.

The father of the family of 13 told the Herald: “We were 20 days at sea and it cost us $4000 for the places on the boat. We stayed for nine months in Honk Kong before being flown to Britain ... I wanted to come to Scotland and I will try my best here”.

In July 1980 the Herald’s Iain Gray and photographer John Mackay met four generations of another Vietnamese family (above and main image) who had moved into two council flats in Pollok, Glasgow. The family, who ranged in age from 18 months to 81 years, had spent several weeks at a reception centre in Carnwath.

The head of the family, Mr Quoc Tran, said his family and nine others had left Vietnam by boat the previous year and that they had now achieved what they set out to do – to settle down and lead a normal family life. “We have been treated with nothing but kindness, both by the Government and the Scottish people. Already, our children are making friends with other children in the area”.

Read more: Herald Diary