The Vietnamese Refugee camp in Galang Island, Batam is a historical place that once inhabited by about 250,000 refugees from Vietnam in 1979-1995. The camp was built by the UNHCR, one of the organizations under the UN that takes care of victims of war, and the government of Indonesia. This refugee camp lies on an area of about 80 hectares. Just like a new ‘city’, this camp was equipped with various facilities, ranging from schools, places of worship (churches, temples, and mosque), hospitals, cemeteries, canteens, barracks, and even a prison.
The refugee story began with a quite long lasted civil war in Vietnam, which happened from 1959 to 1975 that also involved several other countries, eg. The United States and Russia. During and just after the war, many Vietnamese fled away their country for security reasons and for protection. Some of them sailed the South China Sea for months on wooden boats to find a safer place to live. Unfortunately, some of them died on the run, but many also made it by reaching other countries, including on several islands in Indonesia, such as in Natuna Island and Bintan Island. (This is why they were also referred as the “boat people”).
In 1979, they all moved to a refugee camp in Galang Island. For about 16 years they lived on the island, living separated from the outside world. This was deliberately done to facilitate surveillance and security reasons around and inside the camp. Finally in 1995 the camp was closed after the refugees managed to get asylum from countries like the United States and Australia or returning to their home country, Vietnam. This camp was then opened to the public in 1998, after the construction of the Bridge Barelang completed.
Today, several Camp facilities are functioning properly, such as Quan Am Tu Pagoda, Chua Kim Quan Pagoda, and the Catholic Church Nha Tho Duc Me Vo Nhiem. These places of worship are still used by visitors who want to worship and pray in the camp area. Two wooden ships that were used by the refugees are also displayed here, near the Museum of Vietnamese Refugee Camp Galang Island. The museum itself displays some relics of the refugees, such as ID cards, photos, handcrafts (painting, tablecloth, miniature houses, etc.).
Right in front of the museum, lies an Indonesian police office (defunct) and a jail that once used to imprison Vietnamese refugees who committed crimes, such as robbery, escaped from the camp, making liquor, and so on. There is also a Humanity Statue that is located next to the Quan Am Tu Pagoda. The statue was built to commemorate Tinh Nhan, a Vietnamese refugee woman who suicide after being raped by a fellow refugee. Not far from the Humanity Statue, there is the Ngha Trang Grave, where more than 500 refugees were buried. Today, the relatives of the people who buried here often visit the complex, as well as the former refugees themselves, who now live in many other countries, such as the United States, Australia, the Netherlands, Singapore, etc.