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Aid Worker Donates Rare Images from 1980s Border Camps

Credit: Jack Dunford/Documentation Center of Cambodia Archives
Credit: Jack Dunford/Documentation Center of Cambodia Archives

Earlier this month, aid worker Jack Dunford donated a host of images from Thai border camps in the 1980s, where many Cambodians who fled the fighting between the Khmer Rouge and the invading Vietnamese troops, lived before settling abroad.

The rare slides and digital photos provide a glimpse into conditions at the camps and will be held by the Documentation Center of Cambodia. The donation includes 144 film slides, one audiocassette, and 1,220 digitalized photos.

Kokthay Eng, the center’s research director, said the photos shed light on life in the camps and could also help survivors find loved ones they were separated from by the chaos of war.

“Some photos display faces of individual persons at the camps,” he said. “Because they are in good quality, it’s helpful for us to help people find their family members. The photos also give rise to the importance of memory, reflecting the lives of Khmer refugees following the Khmer Rouge regime.”

Although the photos are not available to the public right now, the center is planning to produce an exhibition from them that will be shown at the center, museums, and villages across Cambodia. They also hope to publish a book about the photos, and disseminate the photos online.

Dunford is a British national, currently living and working in Bangkok. He spent almost three decades working with Burmese refugees in camps along the Thai-Burma border.​ He says he took the photos of Cambodian refugees, with specific dates written on them, when he was an aid worker in the region in the 1980s.

“I was conscious at the time that I was taking pictures of something which many people did not really understand,” Dunford told VOA Khmer. “So now, many years later, I am very pleased to find out that people are free to talk about the Khmer Rouge period. There is a great deal of research being done, and the true stories of this period is now being told.”

Dunford said the reaction of former refuges to his photos, some of which might bring back happy memories from those days, has been very special to him. He hopes other aid organizations will find similar photos in their own archives and bring them forward. “That would also be exciting,” he said.