Boat people is a term that usually refers to refugees, illegal immigrants, or asylum seekers who emigrate in numbers in boats that are sometimes old and crudely made. The term came into common use during the late 1970s with the mass departure of Vietnamese refugees from Communist-controlled Vietnam, following the Vietnam War.
Boats have historically been a widely used form of migration or escape for people of limited resources. Most boat people travel without formal right of entry to their destination, but on arrival may seek asylum for various reasons depending on the destination country's laws. They often risk their lives on dangerously crude and overcrowded boats to escape oppression or poverty in their home nations. Some choose to emigrate to better their lives—others, especially political refugees, may be fleeing for their lives.
There are myriad places of the world where boat people have undertaken voyages. A particularly frequent destination has been the USA, which has been the objective of boat people from Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Since 1995, the US wet feet, dry feet policy has generally allowed Cubans who reach dry land in the U.S. to stay while those intercepted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard are returned to Cuba. Elsewhere boat people have originated journeys in Morocco, Vietnam and Albania. Many boat people have been attacked by pirates on the high seas, or have been turned away by governments and forced to return, sometimes even to countries where they were also present illegally.
Boat people are frequently a source of controversy in the nation they seek to immigrate to, such as the United States, Canada, Italy, Spain and Australia. Boat people are often forcibly prevented from landing at their destination or they are subjected to mandatory detention after their arrival. Unlike the wave of Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s and early 1980s, most boat people arriving more recently in Western countries, Australia, or the United States have purchased their passage on large but overcrowded and frequently unseaworthy boats from illegal immigration operators, who may demand considerable sums from their desperate clients.
- Turtle Beach, 1992 Australian film about raising awareness for the plight of the boat people
- Boat People (film), a narrative film made by Hong Kong director Ann Hui, based on research on Vietnamese refugees
- Journey from the Fall, an independent film on the same subject
- Harragas, a type of North African boat people who cross the Mediterranean in tiny boats.
- Through My Eyes Website Imperial War Museum - Online Exhibition (images, video and interviews with Vietnam War refugees, including Boat People)
- The Canadian Museum of Civilization - Boat People No Longer
- Boat people - a refugee crisis: CBC Archives footage
- Boat People S.O.S
- Sikiew and Panatnikhom (Thailand) Minor/Children Center