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Vietnamese Refugees Arrive in North Carolina

November 21, 1992

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ The first of a group of Montagnard tribespeople, former allies of U.S. forces who hid in the jungles of Cambodia since South Vietnam fell, arrived Friday in North Carolina where they will make new homes.

″They’re coming out of one jungle and into a different kind of jungle,″ said Pat Priest of the Lutheran Family Services in the Carolinas, one of several agencies assisting the refugees.

The first small group of the 398 men, women and children, who were brought out of the jungle last month by United Nations peacekeeping forces, landed Friday at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and then flew to North Carolina.

They and the rest of the group are being settled in Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte. Some of them have friends or relatives in a group of 200 Montagnards who settled in North Carolina in 1986.

″I saw some of my friends and I’m so happy I can’t think of anything right now,″ said one of the arrivals, a 29-year-old father of three who goes by the name Theo. His wife stood nearby holding their 1-year-old daughter.

A greeting ceremony also was held Friday night in Raleigh for a lone arrival. Charlotte and Greensboro each had expected 11 refugees Friday night, but the group headed for Greensboro missed their connection in Washington.

Yput Mloduondu, one of the Montagnards who settled in Charlotte earlier, helped greet the new arrivals Friday night.

″I worry about them. They just came from the jungle and here they are in the United States,″ he said. ″I want to help them.″

Veterans of the Vietnam War were among those who wanted to greet the newcomers.

″A lot of the veterans will say they are alive today because a Montagnard gave their life to save them,″ said Kay Reibold, director of the Vietnam Highlands Assistance Project for Lutheran Family Services in Raleigh. ″We’ve got veterans flying in from all parts of the country to meet theqe folks.″

In Vietnam, the Montagnards or hill people had been among tribes who rebelled for hundreds of years against the lowland Vietnamese who had sought to wipe out their culture.

Relegated to second-class status in their own land, the Christianized minorities welcomed American intervention in Vietnam and fought with U.S. troops.

After seizing all of Vietnam in 1975, the Communists launched offensives against the insurgents in the Central Highlands, forcing many to flee into Cambodia.

In June, the Montagnards, most of them suffering from malaria or other diseases, contacted U.N. peacekeepers and asked to be resettled in the United States.

Margaret Pierce, director of the refugee office for Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Charlotte, said housing was the first priority for the 160 refugees who will make their new homes in Charlotte.

″We’ve been stocking refrigerators, buying clothes and making contacts with the proper government agencies to ease the transition,″ she said.

Ms. Pierce said the rapid events that led to the resettlement apparently were smoothed by recent easing of relations between the United States and Vietnam.

″These people had no country to go back to,″ she said. ″They are the classic case of refugees.″

Ms. Pierce said while the transition can be frightening, she is confident the refugees will adapt to living in America - as have those who resettled in North Carolina in 1986.

″They don’t sit around and brood about how rough it is,″ she said. ″They are very smart people and they hit the ground running.″

″These are the survivors of the survivors.″

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