I have been following the refugee crisis enveloping Europe with a heavy heart. You see I have some history with refugees. I’m 1980 I spent half a year working in a Laotian Refugee Camp in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand. The similarities to what is happening now are striking. The crisis then was something the United States was partially to blame for. During the Vietnam War Laos was caught up in its own civil war. The North Vietnamese and the Pathet Lao were fighting the Royal Lao Army which was assisted by US covert military forces, trained and supported by the CIA. When the war ended in 1975 with the Pathet Lao taking over Vientiane, Lao’s capital, the US left and the thousands of Hmong hill tribes people who worked with the CIA as well as lowland Laotian who had fought as proxy of the US in the Royal Lao Army, found themselves under extreme danger. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:
After 1975, Pathet Lao government of Laos has been accused of committing genocide against that country’s Hmong ethnic minority. After the Pathet Lao took over the country in 1975, the conflict continued in isolated pockets. In 1977 a communist newspaper promised the party would hunt down the “American collaborators” and their families “to the last root”.
Thousands were sent to “reeducation” camps where they suffered under extreme conditions and forced labor. Many perished in the camps as well as being killed for collaboration with the enemy.
Needless to say these people were desperate to flee potential death at the hands of the dreaded Pathet Lao. Hmong fled over to camps in Northern Thailand while low landers fled to camps in Northeast Thailand including Ubon Ratchathani where I volunteered.
Meanwhile refugees were fleeing Vietnam and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. This map from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) shows the mass exodus of refugees from Southeast Asia:
Note: This and other maps and graphs taken from The United Nations High Commission for Refugees report: The State of The World’s Refugees, Chapter 4: The Flight From Indochina.
To handle this crisis UNHCR helped to set up refugee camps with support services. Here’s a map showing the location of the camps:
The black triangle in the lower right of Northeast Thailand was the camp where I volunteered – The Laotian Refugee Camp in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand. In addition to the work done by by UNHCR there were people from Save The Children, Seventh-Day Adventist World Service, CARE, and a couple others that slip my mind.
I was able to track down one man’s story which accompanied the photo he submitted to TrekEarth.
One Refugee’s Story
The numbers of refugees from Southeast Asia resettled by other countries is shown in this chart:
That’s a total of 1,311,183 refugees resettled from Southeast Asia. The United States took in 822,977! These refugees have become productive Americans, richly contributing to our country’s diversity.
If we managed to resettle over a million refugees from Southeast Asia surely we can do better for the refugees fleeing the atrocities of the group calling itself “Islamic State!” Yes the problem is huge but it’s something we know how to do. How many more deaths, injuries, heartbreak and tears will it take before we take action?
The truth is that the coalition, led by the United States, that invaded Iraq in 2003 is partially responsible for the current mess. That is also true of the people in Afghanistan that worked with us and are now refugees fleeing for their lives after being targeted by the Taliban. In addition Russia is also partially responsible because they have helped prop up the Asad regime in Syria which ignited the conflict in Syria. There is enough blame to go around, now is time for action.
People of the world encourage your leaders to open the door to “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
I am passionate about this because I know first hand about the plight of refugees and how our actions can make a difference. I shared my experience working in the Laotian Refugee Camp in a post I made a couple years ago which I will add here:
Now check out the responses my post generated – many with their own amazing stories: