Jana K. Lipman, "In Camps: Vietnamese Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Repatriates" (U California Press, 2020)

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In Camps: Vietnamese Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Repatriates (University of California Press, 2020) is an in-depth study of the fate of the nearly 800,000 Vietnamese refugees who left their country by boat, and sought refugee in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The experiences of these populations and the subsequent policies remain relevant today; Who is a refugee? Who determines their status? And how does it change over time?

Jana K. Lipman takes the reader to visit camps in Guam, Malaysia, the Phillipines and Hong Kong, drawing out the politics, policies and how these impacted refugees rights to remain, be resettled or repatriated. She draws out the tensions between the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the US government, drawing into focus the direct impact this had on the day-to-day lives of those stuck in camps.

Her research is the first major work to pay close attention to first-landing host sites, with particular emphasis on Vietnamese activism in the camps and as part of the diaspora. The work will unsettle conventionally accepted accounts of Southeast Asian migration to the US. It reveals how first asylum seeker sites caused UNHCR to reshape international refugee policy. It is a gripping read; historical and also somewhat anthropological, it raises concerns of humanitarianism, human rights and Asian American studies to confront the legal and moral dilemmas, and the obligations that continue to face the US and all host countries of refugees and asylum seekers. It causes the reader to recall the humanity of those seeking asylum, and question current government policies. Though the plight of the Vietnamese refugees is specific, the human need for certainty and safety are universal. This is essential reading in relation to any refugee policy, and human rights and humanitarianism more broadly.

Jana K. Lipman is an Associate Professor of History at Tulane University. She is a scholar of U.S. foreign relations, U.S. immigration, and labor history. Her first book was Guantánamo: A Working-Class History between Empire and Revolution.

Jane Richards is a doctoral candidate in Human Rights Law at the University of Hong Kong. Her research interests include disability, equality, criminal law and civil disobedience. You can find her on twitter @JaneRichardsHK where she avidly follows the Hong Kong’s protests and its politics.

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