Despite the recent agreement allowing some refugees to officially leave Vietnam on flights to the United States, the refugee problem continues to concern Vietnam's neighbours.
GV EXTERIOR Bidong island, Malaysia. (2 SHOTS)
SV PAN OVER Small dormitory style huts.
GV PANS OVER Shanty style dwellings and rubbish.
GV EXTERIOR Better living quarters and INTERIOR cramped conditions. (2 SHOTS)
SV Stagnant water with can lying in it PAN UP TO woman washing clothes.
CUs Rubbish dump with flies and man sprays over area. (3 SHOTS)
SVs Refugees being inoculated.
GV EXTERIOR Building, INTERIOR new born baby. (2 SHOTS)
SVs Women tossing buckets down well and hauling water. (3 SHOTS)
GV PAN FROM Makeshift shelter TO man pumping water while long queue waits to use only pump. (2 SHOTS)
SV INTERIOR Classroom (2 SHOTS)
CU PULL BACK TO SVs Cards being signed and refugees swearing oath. (2 SHOTS)
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Background: Despite the recent agreement allowing some refugees to officially leave Vietnam on flights to the United States, the refugee problem continues to concern Vietnam's neighbours. Malaysia says the number of 'boat people' arriving in October was slightly up on the previous month. A government spokesman said they were keeping a close watch on the situation. Many of the new arrivals are sent to a small Malaysian Island in the South China Sea. There, the refugees are given some help by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the Malaysian Red Crescent Society.
SYNOPSIS: The island of Palau Bidong was an uninhabited coral and granite speck fifteen kilometres (10 miles) off the Malaysian coast until the summer of 1978. Now it's one of the biggest refugee camps in Asia, housing 45-thousand people.
The first arrivals lived in huts, built in a cluster along the shoreline in an area called 'Front Beach'. But later arrivals had to resort to using any available material for shelter, and soon a shanty town was formed, stretching far up the steep slopes of the island's peak. Timber, flour sacks, plastic sheeting, cardboard cartoons and pieces of tin were tacked together for protection against the weather. The forest was denuded, with even the branches used for bedding.
A town without sewers, safe drinking water or garbage disposal, Bidong Island faces a constant threat of epidemics. The refuse can't be burned because of the fire hazard and there are few patches of unused level land left in which to bury it. Spraying patrols frequently roam the crowded alleyways and volunteers regularly collect rubbish from the huts.
There has been no serious epidemic on Bidong, mainly due to the work of refugee doctors, reinforced by visiting para-medical teams from the Malaysian Red Crescent Society. One hepatitis outbreak infected five hundred refugees, but all survived. The chief causes of death are malnutrition and diarrhoea -- usually striking the very old or very young.
Almost every day a baby is born. This child, now back in a hut with its mother, was born in the island's rudimentary clinic just three hours earlier.
The overriding daily concern is fresh water. For two months of the year, the refugees are drenched in it, but once the monsoon season is over, the community is baked by tropical sun. More than sixty wells have been dug, but most are dry, and those closest to the sea are brackish. The one steadily throbbing pump on the island has a never-ending line of refugees waiting to fill a variety of containers with drinking water.
The island school has a shortage of places, books and teaching materials. But, for those lucky enough to attend, there are lessons in English and French to assist resettlement.
Each day families are called to appear before the resettlement committee -- but the process is slow and there are always new arrivals. However for some refugees patients pays off. This group is taking an oath of allegiance to the United States - and soon their quest for a country to settle in will be over.