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Colorado Woman, Former Vietnamese Boat Refugee, Pushes For More Refugees To Be Resettled In America

DENVER (CBS4) - Pho, a traditional Vietnamese soup made with bone broth, can be found all over the Denver metro area. It has become so popular, it's not only a taste of home for immigrants but many others in the community.

"One of the things people don't realize about refugees and people who have been part of a diaspora and have been displaced to various communities is the delicious contributions that they bring with them," Nga Vuong-Sandoval said.

It's part the reason finding a pho shop has become easier. Some were started by families of refugees after the Vietnam War.

"We were out in the open sea, not knowing where it would land, not knowing if anyone knew we were out there, compound it with that is the starvation component," Vuong-Sandoval recalled what her parents told her.

She was just 3 when her family fled their native homeland on a boat, making their way to refugee camps before being welcomed into the U.S. That story is part of how she came to meet with First Lady Jill Biden when she visited Colorado Springs earlier this May.

Nga Vuong-Sandoval, jill biden
(credit: Nga Vuong-Sandoval)

"It was unbelievable for me to realize and recognize the gravity of that moment, of starting off as a little Vietnamese girl on refugee camp, hoping that compassion and sympathy and empathy would be provided to us when we arrived," she told CBS4.

Vuong-Sandoval is trying to push for more refugees to be resettled in America. She sits on several boards, including Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains.

"Currently in the world, we have 26 million refugees," she explained.

The U.S. has for years accepted about 125,000 refugees annually, until the last administration, when the number slowly tapered to 15,000.

"War, persecution, religious persecution, political persecution, violence, climate change," Vuong-Sandoval said, listing just some of the reasons that have led to people being displaced around the world, now stuck in a refugee camp, waiting for a country to accept them.

"They're extremely vetted, it's through three different federal agencies," she explained.

The Biden Administration has so far said it's working to admit more, but some of the programs to help refugees transition have been impacted by the decline, thus slowing down the process.

"There are also opportunities to host if that's something you're comfortable with doing, or hosting events," Vuong-Sandoval said.

Her family is just one example of the struggle to find a better life.

"Because you have to ask yourself, how would you want to be treated if you lose everything?" she asked. However, there are millions like hers, still waiting sometimes for years, for the same opportunity.

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