Less than two years ago former Cambodian Prime Minister In Tam was visiting refuges camps in his own country with all the ceremony of his position.
Less than two years ago former Cambodian Prime Minister In Tam was visiting refuges camps in his own country with all the ceremony of his position. Last week he was amongst refugees from his own side of the Cambodian civil war in the squalor of a Thai camp.
Hundreds of refugees gathered round In Tam as their former leader tried to build up the sagging morale in the Aranyaprathet refugee camp in northern Thailand. Two cane of rice and some canned fish are the most to be expected during a day in the camp. Some of the children and adults are near starvation.
The Aranyaprathet camp holds more than 2,000 Cambodian refugees but it is only one of many hastily set up to take more than 50,000 people who fled to Thailand after the recent Communist victories in south-east Asia.
The Thai government is anxious to have cordial relations with the new Communist governments on its northern and western borders so the reaction to the refugees is one of embarrassment.
The Thais have stated that sooner or later the refugees must return to their own country. Meanwhile they give them a minimum of assistance and the refugees eke out an existence as best they can. Some of the women earn a small amount by washing out plastic bags which local people use to carry oil from Aranyaprathet to Poipet.
The Meos, the mountain tribesmen of Laos, is the largest group of refugees. They were backed by the United States during the Laotian struggle. The new Laotian government, the Pathet La, has repeatedly broadcast threats to the refugees and the camps are full of rumours of revenge taken on those who have returned.
The mistrust of the refugees means that despite the Thai Government's refusal to allow them permanent shelter, most would rather continue to take hardships in Thailand than risk returning home.