No fond memories: Youhorn Chea fled Cambodia more than 30 years ago when the Khmer Rouge was in power. Photo: Wayne TaylorLike it was yesterday, Youhorn Chea recalls being crammed into the back of a truck by people smugglers and making the dangerous 300-kilometre journey across the Cambodian border into Thailand.
It has been more than 30 years since he fled the Khmer Rouge regime, which claimed both his parents and five of his siblings, but he still remembers every detail; navigating landmines, armed gangs swarming the jungle, soldiers indiscriminately shooting refugees in the night.
After a year in a Thai refugee camp, Mr Chea eventually made it to Australia with his family. Now president of the Cambodian Association of Victoria, he has condemned the federal government’s plan to resettle refugees in Cambodia, saying the south-east Asian country is still plagued by human rights atrocities.
”They shoot their own people there,” he said. ”The treatment for the refugees would be very bad. If they don’t listen, they will just eliminate them. They will shoot a refugee.”
Mr Chea said news of the controversial deal was designed to scare asylum seekers from coming to Australia.
”I think it will work,” he said. ”The Cambodian people still do not have any real freedom, so how can they give freedom to the refugees? There is corruption, no freedom of speech, and they discriminate against poor people. Contacts in Cambodia tell me the government is almost like the puppet of the Vietnamese regime again. The Australian government just wants to close their eyes.”
Mr Chea said the Australian-Cambodian community was “disgusted” by news of the plan. ”They all say the same thing, they can’t understand why Australia would send refugees there. No one wants to go there.”
Mr Chea escaped Cambodia with his wife, their four young children, and two other family members. ”There were a lot of landmines so a lot of people died,” he said. ”We each carried one of the children, but if we did not have help to carry them we would not have been able to escape.”
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