boat people, term used to describe the Indochinese refugees who fled Communist rule after the Vietnam War (1975) in small boats and the many ethnic Chinese who left Vietnam similarly after China's invasion of Vietnam in 1979. More than one million people became refugees. Many perished, and others, upon reaching other Southeast Asian countries, discovered they could not remain permanently. The United States, Canada, and other nations accepted most of the refugees in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Although people continued to flee Vietnam into the mid-1990s, nearly all later boat people have been regarded as economic, not political, refugees. In 1996 the United Nations decided to end the financing of the camps holding the remaining 40,000 boat people, and Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines returned most of the remaining refugees to Vietnam. The term boat people has also been used to describe political and economic refugees from other areas, such as Haiti, who fled their homelands by similar means.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.