Vietnamese refugees are still risking their lives and paying high prices to leave their homeland for other Asian countries.
GV Bidong Island, Malaysia, showing shores in distance
SV Refugees carrying belongings ashore from boat (2 shots)
SV PAN ALONG Beach front with refugees sorting out their collective food supplies
SV PAN Refugees cooking food on open fire
GV PAN ALONG Passageways between shanty houses (2 shots)
GV Open sewer running through middle of refugee camp
SV Young children look on as sick babies are held in their motors arms (4 shots)
GV Sick refugees being carried to the beach for transporting to mainland and sitting around on quayside (5 shots)
SV Mother in tears as helpers attempt to revive the dying baby in her arms
The final sequence of a child dying in a mother's arms could distress some viewers.
Script is copyright Reuters Limited. All rights reserved
Background: Vietnamese refugees are still risking their lives and paying high prices to leave their homeland for other Asian countries. But many, now reaching Malaysian shores after long, and often horrifying, voyages in small and unseaworthy boats are finding starvation and sickness waiting for them in the over-crowded refugee camps.
SYNOPSIS: From a distance, the island of Palau Bidong -- fifteen kilometres (10 miles) off the Malaysian coast -- appears idyllic, but on landing the scene is bleak. It's one of the biggest refugee camps in asia and has been the cause of major concern to international relief officials for several years. Refugees who reach the island often are already suffering from exhaustion and malnutrition and have little stamina to withstand the hard life in the camp. Despite inoculation programmes by relief agencies, the overcrowding and lack of sufficient water and toilet facilities cause frequent outbreaks of sickness -- often of epidemic proportions.
Narrow alleyways are lined with shanty-town houses made of sugar sacks and plastic bags for roofs. Some "houses" are merely plastic sheets stretched between coconut trees. The makeshift shelters provide little protection against the north-east monsoon, soon expected to batter the island and send streams of water down the hillsides.
Rubbish dumps and open sewers bring the additional problem of rats, despite an incentive scheme for their capture, introduced to bring them under control.
Apart from the constant threat of major epidemics, medical workers have a non-stop task dealing with daily vases of illness, the most common victims being babies and very young children.
For the chronically ill, transportation to the mainland is difficult. helicopters cannot land safely because of the terrain and the trip by boat takes nearly three hours. In the monsoon season the journey is dangerous and it is not unusual for the island to be cut off completely for days or weeks at a time.
While the sometimes forgotten and unwanted refugees wait in their crowded camps for resettlement, they are far from safe. The flight to freedom often ends in despair as the elements and disease take their toll.