Former Refugees: One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference
It is a constant struggle, if I share their stories, then something bad might happen… It has been a challenge for me. I want to share the true stories of the innocent voices. I have to be careful because I don’t want what I say to cause a former refugee to lose his or her life…
For my Master’s thesis, I conducted six months of field research. I had the privilege of interviewing over 76 returned refugees; most of whom were widows and children suffering with the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge regime and the subsequent Cambodian civil wars. Due to my personal experience as a former child refugee from the Thai/Cambodian border, I wanted to find out what happened to those who were left behind after I left for resettlement in America. Since I spent my first eight years in various refugee camps, I thought my experiences would create insight and a help to create personal connections with former refugees for my research.
My own refugee experience enabled me to gain the trust of former refugee women. After earning their respect and trust, the women were eager to share their stories. I was the first person ever to enter their modest villages and care enough to ask about their experiences. As I took notes and recorded their voices, I saw hope and pride in their eyes. I was deeply moved and motivated by the stories of the returned refugees. They openly shared their challenges and concerns as returnees such as discrimination and lack of education and access to healthcare. From this moment on, I realized I wanted to make a difference through my writing.
Evidence collected during my field research and personal interviews in Cambodia demonstrate that long-term solutions for refugees have not been taken seriously. Over the past twenty years, since the first flow of Cambodian refugees returned to their homeland in 1992, there have been no follow-up studies about their experiences in readjusting to life in Cambodia. I wondered how repatriated refugees’ experiences were different from my experience resettling in America, and how? In what ways was the process under which they returned effective and not effective? Did the UNHCR, and/or other humanitarian or non-governmental organizations, and the cooperating Cambodian government effectively assist them in their repatriation? I sought answers to these questions from the perspectives of the returned refugees.
I was able to share their stories in my personal blog, Facebook page, Master’s thesis and was later invited to present their stories and recommended solutions for policy reform at an international conference, “Cambodia, from Then to Now: Memory and Plural Identities in the Aftermath of Genocide” in Montreal, Canada. By telling their stories on PulseWire, I could continue to be their voice. I could help change their lives and future prospects by writing and sharing their stories with the world because they are still in fear.