An emotional reunion took place last weekend at the first SOS Children’s Village in Imst, Austria as a group of former Vietnamese refugees returned to the village where they first arrived when fleeing the country as children in 1979.
Now, 40 years after making the dangerous and overcrowded boat journey at the end of the Vietnam War, some 70 former refugees were welcomed home.
“We would like to thank those people who supported us, either in a public service role or as volunteers,” the former refugees said in a statement. “In the 40 years since leaving home, we have found a new home.”
SOS Children’s Villages honorary president Helmut Kutin, director of the first children’s village in Vietnam, greeted the guests with a heartfelt “welcome home” in an address given in front of the “Peace” house – the first SOS Children’s Villages shelter worldwide. He expressed gratitude to the people of Imst and beyond, which was echoed by the former refugees.
Mr Kutin said people today could learn from this example of a community caring for refugees forced to flee war and conflict.
After a tour of the village, the guests commemorated SOS Children’s Villages Founder Hermann Gmeiner by laying a wreath at his grave. Afterwards, they visited the Hermann Gmeiner School, where they once attended courses and learned German. During a festive evening reception the guests could reconnect with old friends and reflect on the journey they have made since they first set foot in Austria.
Since coming to Austria after the war, some of the former Vietnamese refugees settled in Imst while others relocated and raised families in new homes across Austria.
“What was once just our only hope has since become a reality: we can build on a livelihood and look to the future with confidence,” they said.