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Refugees in Thailand Face Difficulties, Uncertain Future

In the wake of the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia in 1979, streams of Cambodians fled to Thailand, beginning a refugee crisis that many still carry painful reminders of. Today, Cambodians who feel oppressed or threatened continue to seek Thailand for refuge, but not all of them are lucky enough to reach third countries.

Their struggles highlight the difficult, sometimes impossible, process of people seeking to flee to other countries.

In mid-April Thai authorities sent 85 people who claimed to be political refugees back to Cambodia, according to You Saravuth, a journalist who was given asylum in Norway recently. Children were crying as they were taken away, he said.

Him Vuthea, a Norwegian refugee since May 2006, said he ended up there because he witnessed the shooting murder of his uncle in Kampong Speu province. Both he and his uncle were supporters of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, he said, and he was charged with the murder of his own uncle. He was jailed for two years and sought Thailand after his release. Phally, Him Vuthea's aunt, fled too. She remains in Thailand with her children.

Many supporters claiming to be from the opposition can be found in Thailand. Some of them live off the generosity of Thais and Cambodians. None of them says they will apologize or seek to return on their own to a country where the opposition finds harassment "like in Pol Pot's time."