News Analysis

Why Vietnamese authorities are bulldozing Catholic homes

(Getty)

On January 8, authorities in Vietnam demolished hundreds of homes in an area known as Loc Hung Vegetable Garden in Ho Chi Minh City. In a matter of hours, thousands of residents lost their homes. Children returned home from school to find their houses had become piles of rubble, while police prevented their parents from collecting what was left of their belongings.

The majority of the people who lost their homes were Catholic, and some were beaten and arrested on their way to morning Mass on the day of the demolition. At least 10 people who tried to stop the demolitions were detained, and the police have since stated that 20 residents will be prosecuted for obstructing officials.

The authorities claim that the homes at Loc Hung were constructed illegally, but a group of prominent lawyers representing the residents have reviewed official documents issued to Loc Hung residents dating from the French colonial period up to the present day. They believe the authorities’ actions are illegal.

Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen of Parramatta, Australia, supports the residents. Earlier this month he sent a message of solidarity to the victims, published by Asia News, expressing his “great sorrow” on hearing of the incident. “The latest land grabbing exercise on the part of the communist government has caused extensive damage, destruction and hurt to hundreds of families. Many have been left homeless, their livelihoods totally ruined and their lives irreparably damaged,” he said in the letter.

Loc Hung has a special status which may explain the government’s heavy-handed treatment of the residents. For decades the community has served as a sanctuary for victims of government oppression, including Catholics who migrated to the southern part of the country fleeing persecution in the 1950s. More recently, it has become home to former prisoners of conscience and their families, including Nguyen Bac Truyen, a Hoa Hao Buddhist and a legal activist who provided legal assistance to victims of land grabs and persecuted religious communities. In April 2018 he was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Before the demolitions, most families in the community earned their living by growing vegetables that they sold at local markets, giving the area its name. When their homes were torn down, many plants that were the source of livelihood for residents were also destroyed.

On January 17, 100 residents attempted to file petitions with three different government offices to protest against the destruction of their homes: police stopped them at two of the offices, but the third office accepted the petition. There has been no further response. In the meantime, the people of Loc Hung are left trying to rebuild their lives in the face of an uncertain future.