Reminisces on a refugee camp

A very long time ago, I spent some time working in a refugee camp in Thailand. The camp was jointly run by the Thai military and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The camp was surrounded by barbed wire, with watch towers on each corner. Past the wire stretched rice paddies that alternately gleamed like blood or flashed with light, depending on where the sun was and which direction you were looking.

There were a lot of stories in that camp. Most of them weren’t good. However, they all had their genesis in the Vietnam war, as well as the spillover effects in Laos and Cambodia. After a while, hearing the stories, you go numb or you just can’t listen anymore. There’s no end to human suffering, that’s for sure.

The camp was divided in two halves by a narrow asphalt road that vanished into the distance on either side. I ran the post office on the side where the Khmer, Lao and various tribal people (Mien, Hmong, etc) were kept. The other side of the camp housed the Vietnamese. About thirty refugees worked for me in different capacities: translating, sorting mail, processing mail. They all had stories, and I heard quite a few of them.

I wonder, after all these years, where they’ve all gone. If some of them ended up getting accepted to countries in the west. If some were forcibly repatriated to Laos or Cambodia or Vietnam. Their stories kept on going after I returned home to Switzerland. I was only privy to a small part. However, I think I’ll have to write some of them down one day, even if the remembering makes me go numb again.

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