Singapore's Humane Past

2 decades of war

Backed by communist power Soviet Union and China, North Vietnam emerged victorious as troops invaded South Vietnam and captured Saigon in 1975. The end of Vietnam War also saw the country unify under communist rule.


For fear of persecution, it was estimated that 800,000 South Vietnamese fled the country, becoming refugees or "boat people". 

Op. Thunderstorm

It was said that Singapore was the first country in the region that deterred  Vietnamese boat people from coming onshore. 


Under Operation Thunderstorm, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) were responsible for providing Vietnamese refugees with food, water and fuel, before sending them away from Singapore shores.

Temporary Haven

Eventually, Singapore opened its doors as a transit country for Vietnamese refugees, with the guarantee that they would be resettled in a third country within 90 days, or 3 months.


From 1978 to 1996, 

32,457* Vietnamese refugees were provided temporary safe haven in Singapore, at 25 Hawkins Road, a former British army barrack.

The "Vietnamese Refugee CAmp" @ 25 hawkins road

"[Hawkins Road camp] was considered one of the most humane camps in the region."

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Photograph from Meredith J. Kennedy,

Facebook Group: Vietnamese Boat People Refugee Camp 

"As a small country with limited land, Singapore is not in a position to accept any persons seeking political asylum or refugee status, regardless of their ethnicity or place of origin,"

Spokesperson from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore


JASMINE OSADA (2015) "Singapore can't accept refugees: MHA", Straits Times, 19 May.Available here: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/singapore-cant-accept-refugees-mha

Yen Siow for Refugee Awareness Week (RAW) 2017

After the Vietnam War saw the reunification of the country under communist rule. Yen, then barely four years old, took to the seas with her family in the 1980s, becoming refugees. After spending 5 days adrift at sea, they were rescued and brought to Singapore, where the family were hosted at Hawkins Road Refugee Camp for 5 months, before being resettled to Australia. Hear what Ms Yen Siow has to say about her experience and what RAW means to her. 

Relevant articles

7 January 2018: 'Refugees not welcome here': As ASEAN chair, Singapore must take the lead

15 June 2017: No Common View: Asian Ambivalence Toward Refugees

19 April 2017: Volunteers and MP Louis Ng launched public exhibition revealing the story of Rohingya refugees’ rescued by Acehnese...

5 September 2016: S’pore’s position on refugees has always been: ‘We can’t afford having them here’

13 June 2015: Should Singapore offer asylum to the Rohingya refugees?

21 May 2015: Does Singapore Have a Reason to Refuse Refugees?

20 Dec 2012: 40 stranded refugees will die if help doesn't come soon