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Mother and sons live among dead people

By Duy Tran, An Hong   April 27, 2016 | 03:41 pm GMT+7

A mother and her sons live with thousands of dead people in Binh Hung Hoa cemetery, a giant graveyard on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City.

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Under the roof of this ramshackle house, in the middle of Binh Hung Hoa cementary, Lien and her sons take shelter for the night.

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Kieu Thi Anh Lien and her sons left Binh Phuoc province, approximately 150 km to the north Ho Chi Minh City, and moved to this graveyeard eight years ago after her husband deserted them. No home, no jobs, no money, only each other, the mother and her sons drifted to different places before starting a new life amongst the dead.

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"When my youngest son was almost one year old, my husband just left without saying goodbye. I have never seen him again," Lien whimpered.

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She can't afford accommodation for herself and her children so a makeshift house in the graveyard is their only choice.

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"In the beginning, life here was really tough for us. We were so frightened that we just hugged each other and wept every night in the darkness. When my mother went out to earn some money, we didn't dare to set a foot outside our home," said 18-year-old Kieu Minh Duoc. He and his brother help their mother to water plants and clean gravestones as a way to thank the landowner for allowing them to live in the graveyard for the past eight years.

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The graveyard is their playground. After school, seven-year-old Kieu Minh Tuan makes friends with wild dogs and cats and plays hide and seek with his brother. "Because we live in the graveyard, that scares other children away. No one dares to make friends with us. Me and my brother just hang around with each other. We play until we are tired then go to sleep. We cheer each other up and try to study well so that we can get jobs to support our mother," said Duoc.

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Under the 40 degree heat that is summer in Ho Chi Minh City, living in a shabby house among thousands of graves is not easy. "We are always soaked in sweat," said Duoc.

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Raising chickens helps to pay the bills and is also a good way of breaking the silence in the quiet graveyard.

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Lien helps nuns care for children in a nearby orphange, earning more than VND4 million ($180) per month. 

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"I want to become a doctor," said Tuan, while lying on a gravestone studying.

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"I am saving up for the day we can move out of here," said Lien, while cooking dinner for her children. She works at the orphange from dawn till dusk but she still manages to squeeze enough time in every day to prepare meals for her sons.

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Local authorities said Lien and her children are illegally living in the graveyard and expressed concerns that the pollution there may pose a health hazard. The local government has committed VND1.2 million per month over six months to help Lien and her children find alternative accommodation.