Life in a Refugee Camp

Former Iowa Governor Robert Ray describes conditions in a refugee camp in Thailand when he visited in 1975 after Iowa had opened its doors to earlier refugees.


Well, there were six of us governors that had made this visit to China. And I think I was the one who made arrangements for us to go to Thailand where there were many refugees from Cambodia—had been driven out of that country. Pol Pot was murdering thousands and thousands of people—killing them. It was genocide in its true sense and people were escaping. And so after our trip to China we did make that visit to Thailand. And there were two camps that we went to. But one is indelible in my thinking because it's hard to ever forget thousands of people lying in a mud field, skin and bones, no life, no activity, not enough food or almost not enough food to keep alive. It was just a matter that one would never forget. I remember the person that was going to hand off this little girl to hold and she was probably four, five years old and her head just dropped and she was dead. Fifty to 100 people died in that mud camp a day and it was so awful. We left there just thinking how blessed we were and how much we should do or something we should do to help those poor people. Well, we walked in this little place as I recall—almost looked like a log cabin—and there inside there on the wall was this Department of Transportation map from the state of Iowa. It had little pins where people had been resettled in the state of Iowa. It made me realize that we were universally known.

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