Besides the U.S., many other countries such as France, Canada and Australia welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from Laos after the communist took over in 1975. A few others whose names many Laotian people never heard of before also opened their arms to the unfortunate refugees. One of those is Argentina.
Mr. Sourikhan Phommachanh, who is originally from the Sebangfai region of Laos’ Savannakhet province, said he was among the Laotian refugees who decided to pick Argentina as their new home because he wanted to get out of the refugee camp in Thailand as quickly as possible; he said Argentina offered a quick resettlement and farmers were welcome to resettle there.
The United Nations agreed to support the resettlement in Argentina of 293 Indochinese refugee families, including 262 families from Laos, 25 families from Cambodia and 6 families from Vietnam. Most of them were to work in the agricultural sector, said Mr. Phommachanh.
Argentina ranks second in land size in South America and eighth in the world with a land area of almost 2.77 million square kilometers and an estimated population of around 38 million people according to the 2005 census.
More than 250 Laotian families arrived at the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires in January 1980. But after that two weeks, most of the Laotian refugees were sent to the province of Misiones which borders Paraguay and Brazil. The biggest Laotian refugee settlement in that region is the provincial capital of Posadas, where the weather is very similar to Laos and tropical vegetables and fruit trees like those in Laos grow, such as jackfruit, mango, bamboo, etc....
Mr. Phommachanh said the Argentine government provided land to Laotian refugees who started new life in that region, while the UN provided financial assistance.
The UN gave $US 10,000 to each family according to Mr. Phommachanh, and many families used the money to set up their own businesses. But his group used the money to set up a Lao commune called “Nikhom Lao” in Posadas.
During the early years of resettlement, the refugees faced many problems and hardships. Those problems and a lingering economic crisis in Argentina forced some refugees to go back to Laos and others to move on to resettle in other countries, especially in the United States. Despite the difficulties and isolation, the Lao-Argentinean community has grown, prospered, and was able to build their first Buddhist temple, Wat Rattanarangsiyaram, in 1997 to satisfy their spiritual need.
No body can say for sure how well the Laotian community in Argentina can integrate into the mainstream in the future, but one thing is certain that eventually the next generations of Laotian-Argentineans will have a better opportunity in education, will have some roles to play in their society and will take part in the political process there, as the refugees from Laos have done in the US and other countries where they have resettled.
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