Revealed: alleged smuggler's agony

July 5 2003
By Andrew Webster
The Age

photo caption: Hoa Van Nguyen

A man charged yesterday with attempting to smuggle more than 53 boatpeople into Australia may have been mounting a mission to rescue his extended family in Vietnam, a court has been told.

And the wife of Hoa Van Nguyen, 46, who lives in Melbourne, said he had fled Vietnam after years of torture in Vietnamese prisons because his father had been a senior South Vietnamese district official and he had himself once served in the South Vietnamese army.

Thuy Rhung Tran, 51, told The Age her husband arrived in Australia in the mid-1990s after the communists killed his immediate family, including his father.

She said her own immediate family in Saigon had also been killed by the communists.

Mr Nguyen, an Australian citizen of Vietnamese descent, was arrested after Australian authorities intercepted a fishing boat known as Hao Kiet, off Port Hedland, on Tuesday.

Before Magistrate Robert Black, in the South Hedland Court of Petty Sessions, the crown asked that the matter be adjourned and Nguyen be transferred to Perth.

The boat was carrying 53 suspected illegal boatpeople - 27 men, 17 women and nine children.

Ms Tran said her husband still had a lot of family members in Vietnam.

He spoke constantly to her about his hatred for the communists and their mistreatment of his family, but never mentioned to her that he might return to rescue them. "He always talked about people getting tortured by the communists in Vietnam," she said.

"His family hate the Vietcong because of the torture. He didn't talk about bringing people to Australia." About three months ago Ms Tran said she waved goodbye to her husband at Melbourne Airport. He told her he was returning to Vietnam to seek traditional herbal treatment for the pain he still suffered from his torture.

Ms Tran said she has not heard from her husband since. "I thought he was dead because I haven't seen him for three months," she said.

The first she knew her husband might still be alive was when she thought she recognised a figure in a television news report of a tiny boat trying to reach the Australian mainland.

She said she was surprised to see him on the boat because she did not think he had any sailing experience.

On Thursday Ms Tran returned to her North Carlton housing commission flat to discover it had been raided by the Australian Federal Police.

She says the police took all her papers, including her diary.

No one told her of her husband's situation, or gave her any information as to how she could contact him, she said.

Fighting back her tears she said: "I love my husband very much, I want to see him."

The first she knew he might be in trouble was when reporters arrived at her door yesterday.

Ms Tran met her husband in 1997 soon after arriving in Australia from Vietnam. Their families had suffered terribly under the communist regime.

Mr Nguyen still bore the scars of torture on his head, back, stomach and legs, a series of X-ray images detailing his broken bones.

Mr Nguyen's father, a senior district official had been killed by the Vietcong in the 1970s. Mr Nguyen served in the South Vietnamese Army during the Vietnam War.

Ms Tran said he was captured in battle and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to 20 years in prison.

Mr Nguyen escaped at least once but was recaptured before fleeing to neighbouring Laos.


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