Refugees who fled Vietnam in the ’70s band together to help Syrians (Mount Saint Joseph Hospital)

The three Vietnamese men, all in their 60s, meet for dinner twice a year. One recent evening in Burnaby, they discussed the news coming out of Syria: rickety boats, desperate people fleeing a war zone and bodies washing up on distant beaches.

They knew they had to help. For the men, who were among the 60,000 Vietnamese refugees taken in by Canada in the late ’70s and early ’80s, such scenes represent a painful chapter in the past that can be overcome, but never forgotten.

Ganesan got help writing his resume and sent it to all the hospitals. He was offered a nursing assistant position at Mount Saint Joseph that paid significantly less than what he earned at the metal yard, but he accepted it as a way back into his field. As his English got stronger, he challenged the medical exams at the University of B.C. and was able to go straight into the four-year psychiatry program. He came up with the idea of opening a mental health clinic for immigrants while still a resident. He went on to become the head doctor at Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam and co-founded the Vancouver Association for the Survivors of Torture.Both Ganesan and Phan say Canada could be doing more to help Syrian refugees in need of resettlement. The country’s current commitment is to take in 11,300 Syrians by the end of 2017, compared with 60,000 Vietnamese refugees the country welcomed in the early 1980s.

Tara Carman reports.

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