The Story of How My Parents Escaped the Cambodian Genocide (Part I)
Solika Ry was born in Montreal, Canada, to Cambodian parents who were refugees in Thailand and in Canada in the 1980’s. She traveled to Cambodia with her father for the first time in 2016, where she reconnected with her family’s history.
This article is an extract from a longer photo story on her emotional journey to Cambodia, published via Exposure.co
The post is published as part of an Oxfam-led campaign: #Juknia, Cambodia Migration Stories of Hope
Link to part II: click here
My father and his friend exchanging follow-up stories from the escape from the duck farm where they worked under the Khmer Rouge, a few years before the rest of the country fell under the Pol Pot Regime. They were in their 20s when the conflict broke out. (Credit: Solika Ry)
LEAVING SIEM REAP BEHIND
The year was 1972.
Already in his life as a teenager, my father’s family abode in the village of Angkor Chum, Siem Reap, bore witness to the fallout transitioning of Cambodia’s political landscape, while watching external conflicts of the Vietnam war spilling into Cambodian soil.
My father described witnessing B-52 bombs falling onto his village grounds, deafening screams and explosions took over. Mango and coconut groves of my father’s family’s were napalmed to bits. People became deaf from the recoil sounds of bombs dropping, and some died. A period of starvation washed through the area. My father recalled that finding food was so difficult that he resorted to trapping insects and roasting them using the fire that remained from the napalm on the ground.
My father recalled that finding food was so difficult that he resorted to trapping insects and roasting them using the fire that remained from the napalm on the ground.
A resistance army formed in the forested areas, and were ready to recruit young men and women into the group. My father did not want to face this fate; and so he looked back at his siblings and parents for one last time before sojourning West to escape.
Note that Solika left in the Tuol Sleng prison guestbook (Picture Courtesy: Solika Ry)
LIFE AT THE DUCK FARM
As cities were gradually evacuated in the early 1970s, my father re-located to a duck farm in the Battambang province under the new rule. There were 80,000 ducks on the farm! His role at the farm was to arrange duck eggs in carts, ready to supply and ship to China, as complied from the orders from the top.
Under my father, families from different cities were evacuated settled in this farm. My mother’s family was one of the families who were evacuated to the duck farm.
My mother comes from Sisophon in the Banteay Meanchey province. While of half Chinese and Vietnamese background, the whole family communicated in Khmer and have adapted to the location. In a family of 8 siblings, she was the eldest sister. She lived in a modest home, a student, and a responsible elderly sibling growing up.
My parents married at this farm.
To survive the regime, meant to maintain a farm with healthy output, and not to question authority. In suspicion of a new rotation of army men, my father felt he had to escape. He had a bad feeling of what could happen next, and he did not want to stay to find out. He also did not want to put his fate in the hands of the atrocities that are taking place around him: people were disappearing, re-assigned, and never to return back to the camps.
When the time fell to escape, he turned to my mother and asked that they uproot and head towards the Thai border.
In fear of implicating people around him, my father worked in silence to prepare for his escape. When the time fell to escape, he turned to my mother and asked that they uproot and head towards the Thai border. She would need to leave her family behind.
… And so they both left into the deep jungles of Cambodia.
My dad, his friend and myself during my trip to Cambodia (Credit: Solika Ry)
Together, my parents spent 5 days and 5 nights in the jungle, navigating their way in search of the Thai border. This proved to be a difficult journey as Khmer Rouge soldiers were circulating- ready to eliminate any escapees who fled from their camps. In addition, there were unmarked land mines planted along the forested paths.
My father was careful to only move in the daytime, and stayed stealth at night. He remained vigilant at any types of signs that could indicate danger. My mother became sick during the trek, but my father took care of her and carried her when she could not bring the strength to walk.
Once arriving at the Thai border, the country did not recognize asylum seekers
Once arriving at the Thai border, the country did not recognize asylum seekers, and assumed Cambodian individuals were illegally trespassing international borders. Thailand had very little information on any conflict occurring in Cambodia at this time. Humanitarian efforts have yet to be established at these borders or even recognize the humanitarian crisis looming in secret in Cambodia. As a result, my parents were then imprisoned for over 7 months following their arrival.
My father recalled that he was blindfolded when he was brought to the prison. My parents had to wash blood off the walls of those who were either interrogated or mistreated by the guards. He was badly treated by the guards because of his Khmer background. He had very little to eat.
My mother’s treatment was different in the prison because of her Chinese background, an ethnicity that is favoured by the growing Chinese population within Thai society. The guards gave her extra food, for which she supplied my father in secret to make up for his ration.
Once the camps were set up, my parents transferred over to the refugee camps.
As the crisis in Cambodia escalated to the international sphere, the attention of the world took notice, and took action on the humanitarian front. Refugee camps were installed by the United Nations, in collaboration with the Thai monarchy. Once the camps were set up, my parents transferred over to the refugee camps.
Link to part II: click here
#Juknia, Cambodia Migration Stories of Hope
The post is published as part of an Oxfam-led campaign:
In response to the global migration and refugee crisis, Oxfam Cambodia is organizing a campaign calling on world leaders to keep international borders open those that are displaced from their home. The campaign will collect voices and stories of Cambodian migrants and remind the world of the hope and transformation that comes from refugees that return home to rebuild their country or bring light to their communities wherever they are in the world.