The fall of Saigon in 1975 signaled one of the largest human exoduses and migration of people in modern history. As a result refugee camps were set up in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Japan and Indonesia. Singapore as a city-state was the first to enable its navy and armed forces to carry out and implement Operation Thunderstorm, a ‘push back’ policy. Refugees were given water, food and fuel and forced back out into the open sea.
Eventually a former British barrack located in Sembawang was converted into refugee housing. In 1978, 25 Hawkins Road became one of the smallest refugee camps in the region housing no more than 150 refugees at any given time. In 1996 the camp was closed and the last group of 99 refugees who arrived in 1990 were repatriated to Vietnam.
Hawkins Road, Sambawang no longer exist. The place that once housed a small population of Vietnamese refugees is now nothing more than an overgrown patch of land between View Road and Woodland Avenue. Despite this the memory of this place still permeates the memory of many all over the world and in Australia.
Singapore’s policy towards boat people in the 1970’s is being closely mirrors by those in Australia today. Towing back the boats, refusing entry, sending out armed forces out to ‘take care of business’. All driven by an entrenched racism that exist within both countries.
I visited the site of Hawkins Road on Sunday. Very little remains of it, and as development starts to encroach on this place it will be little more than a memory. The only markers that indicated that anything was there, was a few street lamps and a few meters of Hawkins Road, which curiously invites you to explore as if it was some rich archeological site… so that is what I did.