Like Iraqis, the Cambodian people struggled through one unstable system after another.In recent history, there was the Khmer Rouge and then an autocratic government. Both governments had different ways of making life unbearable for Cambodians.
The nearby conflict in Vietnam was taking a toll on Cambodians. Carpet bombing was a regular occurrence. Under the guise of safety, the Khmer Rouge used this opportunity to topple the government and lead the people into the countryside. There, the people were told they were making a Utopia. The reality, however, was much more grim.
One fifth of the Cambodian population died during this time. The Khmer Rouge targeted the middle class and educated professionals— professors, doctors, lawyers—in mass killings. Others died as a consequence of breaking the regime's strict rules banning religion, private property, and cultural practices. In addition, the Khmer Rouge forced many Cambodians into inhospitable living and working conditions. They often lacked food, medical care, and access to stable housing, and the labor camps they were forced to work in caused people to die from exhaustion.
Those who fled the regime faced a difficult journey. Children that were separated from their families traveled in groups or alone, walking for days without food or water. They were sick, weak, and often became caught in the cross-fire between the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese forces. Most who survived these dangers found themselves stuck in Thailand's refugee camps where the situation was only moderately better.
Like in Cambodia, conditions in Thailand's refugee camps were dire. There was not enough food, shelter, and medical care to go around. The camps were crowded, disease was widespread, crime was rampant, and the dead began to pile up. There were even instances of Thai soldiers firing on the Cambodian refugees. In the audio documentary Trampled Grass, they share the story of a woman in the refugee camp being raped by two soldiers. When this occurred, two refugee men retaliated against them, which led to the camp being fired on by more Thai soldiers.
With help from Australia, the Khmer Rouge was eventually overthrown and a new government was put in place. This government was intended to be a democracy. Instead, it became a dictatorship.
Now, Cambodians are being deported at a high rate from the United States and Australia. The deportations are separating families and sending people to an unrecognizable country.