Three Vietnamese families returned by Australian authorities last year after they tried to illegally migrate there have fled Vietnam a second time by boat hoping to make it to Australia again, their lawyer said.
Attorney Vo An Don wrote on social media on Feb. 3 that the families of Tran Thi Thanh Loan, Tran Thi Lua and Tran Thi Phuc, comprising at least a dozen adults and at least seven children, left Vietnam on Aug. 31.
“At the moment, their boat has passed Indonesian waters and is heading to Australia,” Don wrote on his Facebook page.
All three families fled to Australia in 2015 but were returned to Vietnam the same year where some of them were sentenced to a total of six years in prison by a court in Binh Thuan province on Vietnam’s southeast coast, he said.
“If they are returned by Australia this time, Loan will face up to seven years in prison, and Lua will face six years in prison,” he said, meaning that they will have to serve the remainder of their existing sentences combined with new prison terms.
Loan and Lua told Don by phone that if the Australian government does not accept them and decides to return them to Vietnam, they will drown themselves at sea, the lawyer said.
“They don’t want to be returned to Vietnam a second time,” he said. “I wish them a safe trip and that they reach their harbor of freedom.”
This time Loan left with her four children because her husband is still in prison, Son said. She was sentenced to 36 months in prison, and her husband who was sentenced to 24 years is still serving his term, Don said.
Lua was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
Both Loan’s and Lua’s prison sentences have been put on hold for one year and will resume in July, Don said.
Lua left Vietnam this time with her three children and husband who is piloting the boat to Australia, he said.
Don does not know how many people are in Phuc’s family.
Three people among the group of adults received suspended prison sentences, he said.
Vietnam and Australia signed a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) on human smuggling last year to counter irregular migration by Vietnamese “boat people” who try to enter the country illegally in search of work.
The Australian government takes a zero-tolerance stance on boat people under its Operation Sovereign Borders policy.
Other Vietnamese “boat people” who were caught and returned to the country by Australian authorities last year are serving longer sentences under Article 349 of a new penal code approved by Vietnam in July 2016, which pertains to “organizing for others to flee the country illegally.”
Reported by Mac Lam for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.