by David Browne
A CO-OPERATIVE venture started by the local Council of Churches in Newport, Gwent, has assured the successful resettlement or Vietnamese refugees in the town. The Council of Churches began earlier in the year to approach housing associations and the local council for accommodation for the Vietnamese.
Now four families are settled in permanent houses or flats in Newport, and two more families flew to South Wales from Singapore last week.
One of the families now living in a house provided by the Spiral Housing Association is -Van Huang Dieu, his wife and three children. Mr Huang is a highly skilled marine engineer and served in the merchant navy under the old Vietnamese regime.
He spent three years in a reeducation camp before escaping and fleeing the country with his Inmily in one of the overcrowded ramshackle boats.
The Hoangs spent some time in the resettlement hostel in Chepstow run by Sr Anne burlong. a Good Shepherd Sister who spent 15 years working in Vietnam and speaks fluent Vietnamese. She now works for the British Council for Aid to Refugees in caring for the boat people.
During their stay in Chepstow learning English, the Hangs were offered a new house and a voluntary support group arranged furnishing and facilities. Another support group took the family in hand on their arrival in April, and helped them settle into the neighbourhood.
One such support group in Newport is the family of Christopher and Keza Cotton, They heard that some of the boat people might be coming to Newport and attended one of the initial meetings held by t he Newport Council of Churches.
"We realised that married couples were needed to relate to w hole fan.ilies of boat people... said Mr Cotton. "We started on practical things like hether there would he enough cups and knives and forks. But w hen the family arrived they were well able to deal with all that.
"There was a great deal of form-filling to do for the National lealth, social security. doctor and so on. It was quite overwhelming for us. in English let alone for someone in a foreign language.he said, The Cottons have been looking after the family of Nguyen Gia Tho, who like Mr Holing is a marine engineer. He worked for, the Vietnamese navy., and spent mo years in a Viet-Cong prison, lis wire, Hien was pregnant and Mrs Cotton helped to get her into hospital to have the baby.
"Hien was so obviously relived to have some help. The first visit was to the ante-natal clinic, which I'm sure she would have coped with. but she needed a bit of moral support."
The Nguyen familv live in one of four flats in house provided by the Family Care blousing Association. They arrived in Newport in April and have apparently established a lasting pattern of life.
"These people have not had 'a settled way of life for ■ ears. Families have been broken up and separated for months or years in Vietnam. And they left the country %% ithout their relatives" said Fr Tony Hamson. a priest of St Mary's, Stow Hill arid chairman of Family Care.
"At first it was a novelty to have Vietnamese in the neighbourhood and they made many friends quickly.
"But they have that sort of personality that will ensure lasting friendships" said Mr and Mrs Cotton.
The Hoangs and the Nguyens were rescued in the South China Sea by the Glasgow-registered Wellpark, and arrived in Britain last October.
Mr Nguyen is now employed as a mechanical engineer in Newport. Mr Hoang has been on skill training courses and has had help from the Job Centre in the town.
Although he expects to get a job in motor mechanics quite soon, he really hopes to go back into marine engineering in South Wales.
"We wanted to know why they cli Vietnam. They seemed to be losing everything" said Mr and Mrs ('otton. "In fact all they wanted was to be free. "The) didn't films where they would end up. They were grateful for everything and asked for nothing. It was enough to have somewhere to live and make their home."
The Cottons explained that once involved as a support group there is a tendency to want to do everything. But they were surprised by the initiative shown by the Vietnamese.
"We planned to take Thu and Hien on a shopping expedition. But when we called, Hien told us that Tho had 'just popped out to get a few things'. People want to do too much for them and be over-protective. It is important to know when to withdraw. and let them get on with things on their own" said Chris Cotton.
"They don't miss a thing. They shave got to know the bus routes around the town just as well as any of us" added Keza.
The Vietnamese families in Newport have been given four houses or flats by the two Housing Associations, Spiral and Family Care, and the local authority has added five houses in a council estate.
A minimum of four or five homes in a locality is regarded by BCAR as essential to avoid families being isolated. Not all offers of housing can be taken up.