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Lurgan man wins battle to bring his baby daughter from Vietnam

War evacuee gains passage for partner and the little daughter he’s never met

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Crusade: Vance McElhinney. Credit: Kevin Scott

Crusade: Vance McElhinney. Credit: Kevin Scott

Crusade: Vance McElhinney. Credit: Kevin Scott

A Lurgan man who was evacuated as a baby to the UK from war-ravaged Vietnam nearly half-a-century ago has won his battle with bureaucracy and coronavirus to bring his own Vietnamese baby daughter, whom he’s never met, to be with him.

Vance McElhinney (47) has finally cut through what he called “the masses of red tape” to get permission for Liz and for her mother Le Hang to come to Northern Ireland, where he plans to marry his partner later this year.

Next week Vance will be at Dublin Airport to greet mother and child and he said he can’t wait to hold his daughter in his arms.

“She’s 20 months old now, which ironically is just about the same age as I was in 1975 when I was given a new life in Northern Ireland. I want to give Liz just as good a one as I have had,” said a relieved Vance.

“I can hardly believe that my solicitor and I have managed to overcome all these obstacles that were duly placed in my way to bringing Le and Liz here.

“But I am absolutely thrilled that we will at last be able to be a family.

"The next stage will be to get permanent residency visas.”

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Vance's fiancee Le Hang

Vance's fiancee Le Hang

Vance's fiancee Le Hang

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Vance said that his problems in tackling the immigration regulations were exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis, which played havoc with his application.

And next week Vance’s new arrivals will have to undergo coronavirus tests before and after they travel from Hanoi to Dublin, with stopovers in Singapore and Frankfurt.

“It’s going to be a long haul for them. Le has never been out of Vietnam before,” Vance added.

“But then the whole process has been a tortuous one for us all.

“But it will be worth it just to have us all together.

" I have Skyped every day and I have watched Liz growing up in front of my very eyes.

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Vance's daughter Liz

Vance's daughter Liz

Vance's daughter Liz

“However, it will be fantastic to see her for real for the first time.

"And I’m looking forward to bringing her and Le back home to Lurgan.”

It was in April 1975 that Vance came to Northern Ireland as part of ‘Operation Babylift’ from Saigon, where the United States airlifted 3,000 children in the last days of the Vietnam War.

The first Babylift flight crashed not long after take-off, killing 138 passengers including 78 children.

Around 100 orphans were eventually brought to resettlement centres in the UK.

Vance was adopted by Liz and Cyril McElhinney, who raised him along with their two other sons Stephen and David.

Six years ago Vance returned to Vietnam with a BBC NI documentary team in tow in a bid to find his biological parents.

Although his quest initially proved unsuccessful, he later went back and followed a trail of social media messages which led him to a woman whom DNA tests established was his mother.

It was during that visit Vance met Le Hang “and we hit it off quickly”.

After another series of trips to Vietnam Vance and Le got engaged, and in November 2019 their baby daughter was born.

She was named after Vance’s adoptive mother Liz, who was a well-known Church of Ireland cleric in Lurgan and who died in 2017 after struggling with motor neurone disease.

Vance’s attempts to get permission for Le and Liz to visit him over the past couple of years left him frustrated.

But he said he was determined not to give up.

He added: “I really did have to go through hoops with the authorities and there was a lot of paperwork involved, as well as getting DNA tests to show that Liz is my child.”

In communications with Vance the authorities at one stage admitted: “Unfortunately your application has not been straightforward and it will therefore take longer to process, we are unable to provide a time scale as to when individual applications will be concluded.”

Vance, who thanked his local MP Carla Lockhart for taking up his case, said he had always wanted Le and Liz to live with him.

He added: “Obviously I love them both very much and I have commitments here, but I also wanted Liz to be brought up in Northern Ireland like I was because the education system here is better than in Vietnam, as is the health system.

“Even just from seeing Liz on the internet links, she looks like a lively and lovable wee girl.

"And I’m determined to be a good father and husband. It’s going to be a very different life from my life as a single man.”

Vance, who works for a pharmaceutical company, has also been pioneering a new invention of a ‘dog dock’ for shops to install outside their premises for pet owners to keep their animals secure while they go inside.

He said: “I will now have responsibilities for two other people with two more mouths to feed, which is something that I have never had to do before.”


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