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Tran, Sieng Van

Prominent Refugees, 30 April 1975

Sieng Van Tran

Sieng Van Tran

The walls of the London Underground are plastered with colourful, eye-catching advertisements for an online learning company. Its manager is Sieng Van Tran, a young British citizen, who fled his country of origin, Viet Nam, by boat in 1979.

Tran and his family arrived in Harlsden, London, in 1981 after a seemingly endless journey on a fishing boat and two years in a refugee camp in Singapore and were finally reunited with his father who had fled Viet Nam earlier. Officially recognised as a refugee the same year, Tran started attending a local school. It was not easy, but when difficulties arose due to the language barrier, family and friends helped him out.

In 1997, Tran graduated from Middlesex University with a BSc in Artificial Intelligence, and obtained his MSc from the same university the following year. During his studies, he started toying with the idea of a website that would give people the chance to learn at their own pace, in their own place and in their own time. He spent months working on the project, which he called iLearn.To, from his bedroom.

Refusing an initial $1.5 million offer for the rights to his website, www.ilearn.to, Tran managed to persuade a team of financial backers to invest $4.5 million for its expansion. He is now well on his way to becoming a multimillionaire.

In spite of the fact that his online company demands his attention 18 hours a day, Tran has found the time to try to help out other Vietnamese who are building new lives in Britain. He is an active member and sponsor of the Vietnamese Students Association, a UK-based voluntary organisation that aims to provide young Vietnamese with cultural, educational and social support. In the long run, he also hopes to provide opportunities for Vietnamese people in Britain to receive employment at his company.

He is currently investigating the establishment of a scholarship fund for people in Viet Nam for access to online education, and has already created employment opportunities for several Vietnamese graphics and web design graduates in his home country.

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UNHCR country pages

Statelessness in Viet Nam

Viet Nam's achievements in granting citizenship to thousands of stateless people over the last two years make the country a global leader in ending and preventing statelessness.

Left stateless after the 1975 collapse of the bloody Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, nearly 1,400 former Cambodian refugees received citizenship in Viet Nam in 2010, the culmination of five years of cooperation between the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Vietnamese government. Most of the former refugees have lived in Viet Nam since 1975, all speak Vietnamese and have integrated fully. Almost 1,000 more are on track to get their citizenship in the near future. With citizenship comes the all-important family registration book that governs all citizens' interactions with the government in Viet Nam, as well as a government identification card. These two documents allow the new citizens to purchase property, attend universities and get health insurance and pensions. The documents also allow them to do simple things they could not do before, such as own a motorbike.

Viet Nam also passed a law in 2009 to restore citizenship to Vietnamese women who became stateless in the land of their birth after they married foreign men, but divorced before getting foreign citizenship for them and their children.

UNHCR estimates that up to 12 million people around the world are currently stateless.

Statelessness in Viet Nam

Viet Nam: Without a CountryPlay video

Viet Nam: Without a Country

In the 1970s, thousands of people fled to Viet Nam to escape the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Some of those who stayed in places Like Ho Chi Minh City became stateless.