Sun, Oct 01, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Where there's darkness …

Reverend Peter Nguyen Van Hung escaped an authoritarian regime in Vietnam and has waged war against the persecution of Vietnamese workers and brides in Taiwan

By Ron Brownlow  /  STAFF REPORTER

 Vietnamese "are always suspicious and are easily controlled … It is part of the psychic problem of Vietnamese society," Hung explained. "They live in fear, fear of being repatriated, losing face … being arrested for nothing. When I come to talk and to empower them about their rights … I discover a huge hidden fear and they can't do anything."

 Vietnam was different when Hung was growing up with five brothers and two sisters 170km north of what is now called Ho Chi Minh City. His father drove a taxi and his family was "lower middle-class." Hung's mother often invited beggars to the dinner table and was a committed Catholic, inspiring a similar devotion in her son, especially after she took over as breadwinner when his father contracted what was to be a long and ultimately terminal illness. Hung would take rice and dried fish from home and feed it to the poor behind his mother's back. Only years later did he realize that she knew.

 His mother had escaped from the North in 1964, but Hung didn't believe her tales of atrocities there. He saw corruption in South Vietnam and held radical political views, even though he always wanted to be a priest.

 Things changed when communists unified the country in 1975. Hung said he would hear dogs barking at night, when "a strong, very powerful sense of fear covered the whole village."

 In 1979, at the age of 21, he crammed on a boat with 56 other refugees. A Norwegian vessel picked them up after 36 hours at sea and took them to Japan, where he joined the missionary society of St. Columban. Hung later studied at a seminary in Sydney and was ordained in 1991. "I was able to get to know myself through my education," he said. "I came to know the fear in myself."

 Hung was assigned to Taiwan for two years before his ordination. Afterwards he returned to help homeless people in Jhonghe and later handicapped children in the south.

 At the Vietnamese Migrant Workers & Brides Office since 2004, Hung rises each day at 6am and doesn't sleep until midnight or later. Days are spent in discussions with social workers, meeting with government officials and non-profit organizations and counseling abused migrants. On his day off — friends say he has to be forced to take it — he wakes up at 7:30am. He keeps a guitar in his office and paints Chinese paintings in his free time, which he sends to his mother in Sydney.

 Lately the fear has returned in a new guise. "It's obvious that what I'm doing here has stopped people from making money illegally," Hung said. Anonymous callers tell him to "be careful." Thugs throw trash and chewed betel nuts at the Vietnamese Migrant Workers & Brides Office from passing cars. Others peer in through the front gate at night. This year, friends have reported hearing Hung's name discussed by businessmen at bars.

 Hung appears undaunted, though he no longer goes out at night. "I try to be careful," he said. "However, if it happens I'm ready. I always live for the moment. I try to live my life to the full."


For more information on the Vietnamese Migrant Workers & Brides Office, visit

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