03/04/2015, 00.00
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155 Catholic students denied school access over land dispute

For six months hundreds of families have been unable to send their children - between 4 and 15 years of age - to school. The authorities have imposed a transfer to a school 30 km away. For three years there has been a clash between Catholics and authorities over the forced displacement of a thousand families. But some of them resisted.

Hanoi (AsiaNews / EDA) - For six months, the authorities of the district of Ky Anh (Ha Tinh province, central Vietnam) have prevented a group of 155 young Catholics from attending school, depriving them of the right - enshrined in the Constitution - to education.

Last September the heads of the local administration informed their families that they had no right to access the institute - primary and secondary - for the school year 2014/15. Upon returning to classes, families were informed that the names of their children - boys and girls between 4 and 15 years of age - were not present in any list. In early March, a month after the initial ban, the situation has not changed.

The students, who are forced against their will to a prolonged period of vacation, are part of the parish of Dông Yên. Their parents received a communique from the Ky Anh School principal announcing that the children had been registered by the authorities at an institution 30 km away, in the district where the families had been previously ordered to transfer.

Local Catholic families and local Communist authorities have been at loggerheads since 2012, when district leaders ordered a thousand families of Dông Yên parish to move to a new area, established by the authorities. Three years later, 810 people obeyed the order and have changed residence. However, a group of 150 families decided to challenge the administration and to remain on their own land.

Some members of the local Catholic community explain that they have lived in the area for hundreds of years, that they are part of an old community and that they compensation offered by the authorities is ridiculously low. In addition, the new homes in the designated area offer no guarantees in terms of hygiene, education and employment opportunities.

The children and teenagers are now paying the price for this standoff and for six months have not been able to attend classes which means, in all likelihood, they will lose the school year. Sorrow and regret is expressed also by the headteacher, who said that he had imposed the ban "reluctantly" because "they are good children. But it is an order from the authorities, which led me to take this decision extreme".

As denounced on several occasions not only by the Vietnamese Catholic Church, but also by leading international financial institutions, the vexing question of land ownership in Vietnam is not only a legal and constitutional issue, but it is a drag on economic development of the country. In just three years there have been about 700 thousand disputes over land, most of which concerned compensation issues. Data from the World Bank reports that from 2001 to 2010 about one million hectares of agricultural land has been converted for different purposes; disputes over land have blocked or delayed many of the 80 infrastructure projects funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for at least two years, for a total of $ 9 billion.


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