Catholic Villagers in Vietnam Protest Lack of Compensation For Formosa Disaster

About 1,000 parishioners from Quang Binh province demand payouts from local administrators for the loss of livelihoods they have suffered.

Vietnamese Catholics from Con Nam church in Quang Minh village, Badon town, in central Vietnam’s Quang Binh province march to the local People’s Committee office to demand compensation for the Formosa disaster, July 3, 2017.

About 1,000 Roman Catholics from a village in central Vietnam’s Quang Binh province marched to the local People’s Committee office on Monday to demand compensation for lost livelihoods caused by a toxic waste spill that occurred along the country’s central coast more than a year ago, a priest who led the gathering said.

A quarter of the 4,000 parishioners of Con Nam church in Quang Minh village of Badon town called on local administrators to pay them for losses they have suffered from the spill that polluted more than 125 miles of coastline along four coastal provinces, including Quang Binh, said Father Truong Van Thuc.

The April 6, 2016, environmental disaster killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless.

Two months later, Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group acknowledged it was responsible for the release of the chemicals from its massive steel plant located at the deep-water port in Ha Tinh province’s Ky Anh district.

The company voluntarily paid U.S. $500 million to clean up and compensate those affected by the spill, but the slow and uneven payout of the funds by the Vietnamese government has prompted protests which continue to be held more than a year after the disaster.

“We are in the area that has been affected by Formosa,” Thuc, who is in charge of Con Nam church, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

“According to decision No. 1880 of the government, there are seven job categories on the compensation list, and in this area people who catch crabs and snails are eligible for compensation,” he said.

‘They did not answer’

Parishioners of Con Nam church are upset because those affected by the disaster in Ha Tinh province have been eligible to receive 17.4 million-35.5 million dong (U.S. $755-$1,541) in compensation, while only four families who live in the five hamlets comprising Quang Minh village have received only 8 million dong (U.S. $347) each.

During the protest outside the People’s Committee office, officials avoided the crowd because no one wanted to respond to their demands directly, Thuc said.

“We demanded that payments be made to us via the hamlet office, but the village did not address that demand,” he said. “We wanted to hear an answer from them, but they did not answer. They did not address the issue directly and told us that they have not received approval from above.”

Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Truong Hoa Binh, who is overseeing the government’s compensation process for those affected by the Formosa disaster, told the media in June that all payments would be issued by the end of that month.

At a central government meeting on June 7, Truong Quoc Cuong, the deputy health minister, told Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc that fish from the affected areas along the country’s central coast appeared to be safe to consume, and that tests in deep-sea waters between June 2016 and March 2017 showed no indications of toxicity.

Thugs hired by local police have beaten Catholics in other parishes in the four provinces affected by the toxic waste spill, and vandals believed to be paid by local authorities have damaged church property in retaliation for their protests over the handling of the payouts.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.