White faces certainly feel so. English traveller Alex Dorey is commendable of his treatment in Saigon.
“I’ve had a great time here,” he says. “The locals have treated me very well and I’m enjoying it.”
English teacher Ryan Davis positions himself similarly.
“I felt welcome from the very moment I arrived,” he explains.
However, for a certain minority of visitors, Vietnam is growing only in hostility rather than warmth.
A Different Story
“We’re being treated savagely,” says Aaron Ewedafe, a 24-year-old Nigerian footballer and native of the Nigerian capital Lagos.
Hanging out on the corner of Pham Ngu Lao, Aaron is here drinking with friends, enjoying an evening away from a hard day’s training. “The locals look at us with disgust,” he adds while swigging the remnants of his VND5,000 beer.
What a professional footballer is doing drinking beer is beside the point, for Aaron it is an act of escapism, a chance to forget just how difficult the life of a Nigerian in Vietnam can be.
“It’s tough,” he says. “My friends can’t ever come and see me.”
In February the authorities embarked on a serious crackdown on Nigerians following a wave of anti-social and criminal activities reportedly being perpetrated by Nigerian immigrants. Later that month the Government placed a blanket ban on all Nigerian visitors attempting to enter the country.
“The government is being unfair. We can’t set up businesses or find accommodation. We can’t do anything,” Aaron and his friends say. But their cries remain dubious. Is there truly no smoke without fire?
In late February, according to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official in Nigerian’s second biggest city Abuja, the Vietnamese authorities met with the Nigerian Ambassador in Hanoi to protest over what they consider the unbecoming attitude of Nigerians. According to the official, Vietnamese authorities also announced plans to deport scores of Nigerians already in detention over a diverse range of criminal acts.
What the con me le (as the Vietnamese call them) have apparently been up to range from petty to very serious crimes. Among reports of robbery, identity fraud and black bank note scams are far more serious crimes that involve allegations of drug pedaling, prostitution, sexual assault and more.
The Vietnamese media has reported these issues with verve. English language newspaper Thanh Nhien claimed to have uncovered a Nigerian-run sex-ring promising to make women happy in exchange for money in late January, while the Vietnamese press has circulated regular reports of Nigerian scams on Vietnamese locals.
“When people publicize these things in the media they forget,” says Soloman Lar, a Nigerian professional living in Phu My Hung. “The media is tarnishing the reputation of Nigerians and we are facing greater hostility from the Vietnamese people.”
How Times Have Changed
For long-term residents this rise in hostility has been gradual.
“Politically, socially and otherwise I have noticed a lot of changes in Vietnam since coming here in 2006,” says Soloman. “When I first arrived the country was still developing with lots of foreigners searching for jobs and the Vietnamese were very accommodating and friendly.”
But the reasons why Nigerians have relocated to a country that is so far removed, both culturally and geographically, to their West African home remains largely ominous. Soloman claims that he wound up here by coincidence after missing a flight to Malaysia, while another businessman, Somuadina Emmanuel, told me he was invited by a friend. To the Vietnamese such reasoning may appear unconvincing and only fuels the level of antagonism.
For most, it appears, it is the promise of jobs that is the cause for uproot, with most realizing upon arrival that their options are in fact severely limited. Lagos based newspaper This Day, sought to hold Nigerians back by referring to Vietnam earlier this year as a “supposed economic Eldorado” where there are “hardly any rewarding jobs”.
But as the number of Nigerians continues to swell in the downtown areas, such warnings seem to have come too late. According to Aaron, most of these men hanging around the backpacker area were once footballers tempted to Vietnam by managers in 2006/07, only to be dumped for Brazilian players and released from their contracts.
“What these men do now I don’t know,” he says.
According to reports, many have no money, no accommodation and sleep rough.
To the media and the Vietnamese authorities the answer to this question is obvious. These Nigerians are now unemployed and dabbling in crime.