When war broke out between Vietnam and Cambodia in 1978, Ms Hoang’s mother feared the Communist government would force her three oldest children to fight.
Fearing the worst, she made a difficult decision and sent them off to seek asylum.
In 1979, after four previous attempts, Ms Hoang and her two younger siblings left their family behind and set sail for Malaysia on a 25-metre wooden boat, carrying 370 other people.
‘The first few hours I was just so sad; when the boat took off I looked back and saw my mum and other siblings were still there ” the feeling of separation overwhelmed me,’ she said.
‘Once we were out into the open seas, we were tossed about in a horrendous storm and at that point people were scared.’
Ms Hoang said her fears escalated in the final days of their journey when pirates intercepted their boat.
‘Our captain told all women and children to go down to the bottom of the boat and smear our face and body with oil and whatever we could pick up ” vomit or whatever ” to make us smell and look bad so hopefully the pirates would spare us,’ she said.
‘We were quite naive because in reality if we were caught they would just strip us naked and rape us.’
Ms Hoang said when they made it off the coast of Malaysia they were refused entry because of a ‘push back’ policy in place at the time.
‘The military shot at our boat, pushed us back to sea, robbed us and then took off,’ she said.
Their seven-day ordeal at sea ended when they arrived at an Indonesian island.
‘During that time people started to die ” we lost about four people and their bodies had to be thrown to the ocean ” that was the hardest thing for me to forget,’ Ms Hoang said.
‘ I’ve had nightmares ever since. Sadly on that island, nearly 300 people died.’
Ms Hoang and her siblings lived in Indonesia for 10 months before resettling in the US in 1980.
The 50-year-old migrant, who moved to Australia six years ago, said ‘based on what’s happening now, these boat smugglers need to be stopped even though the people who need to get out of these situations will have less chance of finding a way out ” that doesn’t mean we look away though, especially if they’re putting lives at risk’.
‘The policy that we have now is very harsh; it appears to be punishing the boat people and they already suffered before they came here,’ she said.
‘Being a boat person myself I empathise with these people.
‘When we make a policy about boat people, we need to also consider what happened to them previously and all the ramifications that would happen to them as well.’