TEL AVIV (Jun. 26)
A group of 66 Vietnamese refugees who were rescued by an Israeli freighter in the South China Sea June 9 arrived today in Israel. The refugees, who were greeted by Yehuda Avner, a special representative of Premier Menachem Begin, were happy to be in Israel, the only country that offered them a haven. But as one of them admitted to reporters, “The truth is I don’t really know where we are. I’d never heard of Israel before the Yuvali (the Israeli freighter) saved us.”
Dr. Tran Quanq Hoa, a 32-year-old former surgeon in the South Vietnamese Army, speaking for the group, thanked Israeli authorities in an emotion-choked voice. He said that after the ship on which the group had fled Vietnam sank, five ships passed their raft by and “refused even to give us water” until the Israeli freighter rescued them.
The refugees, who included 16 children and several pregnant women, were given visas and work permits along with pocket money, toys for the children, and large quantities of fish, rice and vegetables which are Vietnamese staples. They were taken to an absorption center in Ofakim in southern Israel which usually houses Soviet immigrants. Officials here said about half of the refugees want to go to the United States, the rest will remain in Israel.
The refugees were taken off the Yuvali in Taiwan which along with Japan and Hong Kong, had refused them asylum earlier and flown from there to Hong Kong. The Vietnamese left the ship in tears thanking the captain of the freighter. From Hong Kong they were flown to Frankfurt by Lufthansa and then to Israel.