Finding family: ‘I don’t want this Vietnamese woman going to her grave not knowing about her kid’

30 September 2019

Over 11,000 intercountry adoptions have taken place across Australia. With the help of non-government organisations some adoptees are finding their overseas biological families - but these organisations are in decline.

Rohan Samara came to Australia in a box on a plane with 330 other kids, he was an orphan evacuated in Operation Babylift after the fall of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) in April 1975.

Forty-two years later in 2017 Rohan decided he’d try to find his biological mum.

“I don’t want this poor old little Vietnamese woman going to her grave not knowing about her kid,” Rohan said.

“That thought just breaks my heart."

Rohan connected with charity International Social Services Australia (ISS) to begin the process of tracing his biological family; after 3,000 posters with his details were distributed near his Sóc Tr?ng orphanage, no family could be found.

While Rohan’s attempt was unsuccessful, the same can’t be said for many of the other cases engaged by the service.

Throughout its operation ISS undertook 226 tracing cases, and successfully located 55 birth families and facilitated 28 reunions.

The ISS received two rounds of funding from the Department of Social Services (DSS) to establish a tracing and reunification initiative, that funding concluded in June 2018.

Now tracing falls on state-funded organisations that assist Australian intercountry adoptees to trace biological families who are predominantly of South Korean, Ethiopian, Thai, Filipino, Taiwanese and Sri Lankan origins.

Tracing case workers, like Su Park of Relationships Australia South Australia, specialise in liaising with foreign governments directly to exchange information on adoptees and birth families to potentially find contact – something that for countries like South Korea, the adoptees can’t arrange on their own.

“The Australian Government has agreements with a few countries, but not every country has a system to find biological parents, for South Korean adoptees wanting to find their biological parents, they have to go through us,” Su said.

“But, countries like Sri Lanka and India, they don’t really have a system so those adoptees have to find their own pathway, they have to go themselves or get private detectives to search, and you just don’t know much about their credibility”.

Su gathers any birth parent information provided by adoptees and engages South Korea’s Eastern Social Welfare Society (ESWS) who ideally will find a parental match in their databases, but sometimes the most challenging part comes after finding the family.

“People here may be racially Asian or Korean, but there are issues with cultural differences between Australian and Korean people, when we can find the biological parents, it can still be incredibly hard for them to connect,” she said.

While there are 21 non-government organisations assisting intercountry adoptees with counselling and tracing services, the declining number of intercountry adoptions among Australians has prompted groups to suspend operations.