Working Paper
The integration of Vietnamese refugees in London and the UK

Fragmentation, complexity, and ‘in/visibility’

The Vietnamese refugee experience in the UK has been characteristically different from the broader international flows of Vietnamese ‘boat people’ to the West. With no pre-existing Vietnamese community in the UK, largely composed of the rural poor from northern Vietnam, this numerically small community has remained largely invisible in British society. London houses over half of the UK Vietnamese population and the London Vietnamese communities are notoriously heterogeneous, fragmented, and divided according to political ideology, refugee wave, social class, ethnicity, geographical location, and social origins.

These factors have translated into differential access to/proximity to local ethnic and co-ethnic labour markets and services, opportunities for self-employment, ethnic and transnational networks, political representation, community organization, public service provision, and belonging. This article explores how these various layers have worked together to produce divergent outcomes for these population fragments across London. Attention is paid to variation across areas of higher population concentration in East London (Lewisham and Hackney) and the more dispersed North and West London populations. In addition to exploring socioeconomic features of integration, this article also reflects upon how the broader social status of Vietnamese refugees in British society has offered both opportunities and constraints for their success.