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It’s time to reunite families, isn’t it?

Sunday, August 30, 2020, 11:13 GMT+7
It’s time to reunite families, isn’t it?
A passenger has her passport checked at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, Vietnam, March 18, 2020. Photo: Nam Tran / Tuoi Tre

Most of us would be aware of the plight of families and couples separated, stranded, and caught out by international lockdowns but what of those separated by quarantine within Vietnam?

As I’m a long-time single expat here, I hadn’t really thought about this dilemma until a Facebook post by an expat protesting at the separation difficulties being faced by expats married to locals who have been put in quarantine. 

The question here is firstly, why can’t everyone in this situation within the country quarantine at home or alternatively spend the time together in a designated quarantine hotel or facility? 

Well, one part of that stems from national and local medical rules and resources on site including beds. I don’t think paying to stay with loved ones in a medical facility would be a big problem if you could petition local authorities. Probably the bigger issue is mostly women and men are separated in these dormitories and not enough space for an entire family in one room.

Then think about the days together – if you enter later, you leave later, becoming separated yet again. Home quarantine would be the way to go but what happens if one member gets seriously ill? Clearly, mothers would go with young children although even that would be problematic if medically serious complications arise.

Secondly, Vietnamese citizens can return to Vietnam to be with their spouses and loved ones, yet it appears foreigners married to locals can’t enter. While I doubt this is intentional – apart from the perceived risk of importing infections from international arrivals – this oversight does cause serious distress and disruption to family life and relationships.

The second situation doesn’t make much sense if Viet Kieu (Vietnamese who live outside Vietnam but still have cultural, business, and family connections to the motherland), for example, are allowed entry despite the medical risk, yet foreigners who can prove they are COVID-19 negative at the time of travel and have married long-term relationships in Vietnam can’t. This could be seen as one sided and preferential treatment.

But this would be moot as the number of foreign spouses wishing to re-entry Vietnam wouldn’t add much to the number of people willing to return, pay a lot for the flight and the cost of quarantine. All in or all out, I suppose.

However, adding foreign spouses to the existing list of entry exemptions which includes business, ‘expert,’ and government visas shouldn’t be too hard to do. Either a marriage certificate, certified copy or maybe even a change to the temporary resident card to include marriage details is sufficient for legal entry.

Mixed marriages between foreigners and locals are considered by some as not that much of a benefit (apart from love and kids!) because temporary resident cards, visa extensions, and buying and selling property are still difficult, complex, expensive, and time-consuming. So, following that line of reasoning, being a spouse shouldn’t demand any special treatment either. Then again that’s much of the world, hey?

With the real truth being that foreigners, even if they integrate by marriage into the Vietnamese culture, don’t register that much on the government’s radar – especially now that it’s got more to deal with on its hands. Apart from the initial declaration blocking foreign arrivals, I haven’t found a single document mentioning expat spouses nor the prospect of changes to the visa/immigration rules for them.

While it’s not illegal to have a same-sex relationship in Vietnam anymore, marriage is still not legal or recognized by law, gay and lesbian couples have no ‘spouse’ status for entering the country – just enter as individuals. Which also lumps all the other ‘lover’ relationships in the banned category for foreigner entry into the country.

A blog entry made an interesting point that while many embassies are not really helpful during the plight of so many people scrambling desperately to reach their loved ones (in either direction: into or out of Vietnam). Contacting your local government representative might actually help get something happening, as it already occurred to an Australian needing to get to Australia with official documentation and an American attempting to return to his Vietnamese wife. Both have, however, failed so far in their efforts.  

As the original poster, I mentioned at the beginning of the article the question of ‘fairness.’ It could be argued that the Viet Kieu, having originally left the country, have no higher claim to special entry than expats who made Vietnam their home, marrying and building lives and businesses. This is especially true, considering claims that English teachers who are usually single and not particularly ‘experts’ are gaining entry.

I feel a general consensus, based on social media speculation and cautious government statements, that officials seem to wait for the number of coronavirus cases to go down, particularly in the central coast region, before they gradually or altogether lift social distancing restrictions.

All of this might be wishful thinking on the part of many but change doesn’t come without effort.

It’s time to reunite families and support one another throughout this extraordinary circumstance in the history of the world.

Stivi Cooke / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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