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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.


usha kc's picture

Dear Yenly, I appriciate your

Dear Yenly, I appriciate your feeling and it's good to read. thank you for sharing.

Yenly Thach's picture

Thank you, Usha!

Thank you, Usha! I also appreciate you sharing your stories and experience! Thank you for taking the time to read my article! Best wishes,

Yenly Thach

Stella Paul's picture

The most vulnerable

Coming from a country of several millions of refugees, I know that there are no other community more vulnerable than ones displaced from their own country. So, a huge applause to you for choosing to speak for this section of people. I wish you more luck, more support and more success in your mission.

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Yenly Thach's picture

Is True!

Stella, is true that refugees are the most vulnerable people. Sometimes it is hard because they are stateless and have no place to call home...Sometimes all it takes is someone to believe and fight for their rights. Thank you so much for your great effort and support. Congrats on your huge deal! I look forward to learn more of your journey ahead! Best of luck,

Yenly Thach

Adepeju's picture

I found your story really

I found your story really educative. Thank you for sharing

Yenly Thach's picture

That is wonderful!

That is wonderful! I'm glad you were able to learn something from my experience and story! This is one of my goal is to educate the public about the innocent voices. Thank you so much for your great effort and support!

Yenly Thach

Skye's picture


Thanks for sharing this! It seems that the ability to share your story and someone's interest in it moves the personal to the universal. In recording these women's stories and sharing your own, you are already creating an impact, a social act. Inspiring.

Yenly Thach's picture

I am love!

Thank you so much for sharing with me your thoughtful kind words! I feel so much love and support! When you are inspired, I am as well. It is a great feeling of positive energy and love. Thank you so much!

Yenly Thach

Monica Clarke's picture

Uttah girl!

Don't stop!

With love from a refugee in France, Monica from S Africa

Monica Clarke, Writer & Storyteller, bringing human rights alive.
I wish you 'Nangamso', that is: May you continue to do the good work which you do so well.
(A blessing from my ancestors, the Khoikhoi, the first people of South Africa).

Yenly Thach's picture

Thank you, Monica!

Thank you, Monica for the love and support! I am feeling it, a lot! :)

Yenly Thach

soulhavenlisa's picture


Thanks Yenly for what you do. Your writing transmits a feeling of hope and gentleness along with determination. Thanks for sharing.

Love and light,

Yenly Thach's picture

Determination and light


I am bless with determination, which shines light on me to motiviate to help others. I would say is my strength. :) Thank you so much for sharing with me your sweet words and inspiring comment! This brings light and hope into my life. Thank you!

Yenly Thach

ChelseaPeil's picture

What do you say?

What stories if you were to not give away identities, what would these people say and want to share with world.

Great niche, passion and experience to share.

Chelsea Peil

Yenly Thach's picture

Thank you, Chelsea!

Thank you, Chelsea! Is more humane to put a name and story on a human face...Thank you for your effort and support,

Yenly Thach

lolatsai's picture

Important Work

Dear Yenly,

This is such important work, thank you for helping to bring out the voices of these women. No doubt your words will affect change and impact. Keep going!


Love & blessings,

Yenly Thach's picture

Thank you, Lola!

Thank you, Lola! I truly appreciate your effort and support! I do hope that my words will continue to inspire and educate the world about these amazing women that I have met and interviewed. I do agree with you that it is so important to share their stories, the innocent voices, so the rest of the world will know and because they deserve it. Thank you,

Best regards,

Yenly Thach

desertmuse's picture

Amazing projects!

Dear Yenly,

This is so important on so many levels to understand Cambodia and also to use this information to understand how to help other refugees from genocidal situations. Well done!


Yenly Thach's picture

That the plan!

Dear Yvonne,

My research was looking at the global issue with humanitarian assistance. Since repartition process is an ideal option for refugees' plights, the fact matter is, it is not effective in the case of Cambodian refugees study case. I do hope to use this project to assist current and future refugees' plights. Thank you so much for your support and great effort!

Best regards,

Yenly Thach

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