“The Virgin Mary is Going South”: Refugee Resettlement in South Vietnam, 1954–1956

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Source: Jessica Elkind, “The Virgin Mary is Going South”: Refugee Resettlement in South Vietnam, 1954–1956″, Diplomatic History, Vol. 38, No. 5 (2014), pp.987-1016.

In the months following the 1954 partition of Vietnam, nearly one million people fled their homes north of the seventeenth parallel, hoping for better and more secure lives in the south. Many of those fleeing had served in the French colonial administration and were Catholics, and they feared political or religious persecution under Ho Chi Minh’s government. South Vietnamese and American officials actively encouraged and supported the migration, despite the fact that the influx of northerners presented immediate challenges both to the southern government and to the partnership between Washington and Saigon. As they began streaming into the newly created state of South Vietnam, these refugees posed logistical problems, placed strain on South Vietnam’s already-weak economy, and tested the nascent government’s ability to provide basic services to those in need of public assistance. The northerners’ arrival also complicated American efforts to bolster the Government of Vietnam (GVN) and to implement a bold nation-building agenda in South Vietnam. The United States had been aiding anticommunist elements in Vietnam since the beginning of the decade and, after the 1954 military defeat of the French, played an active role in creating and defending a separate, non-communist state in southern Vietnam.

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