A guard tower at a refugee camp A child crying at the refugee camp A woman holding a baby A man playing the qeej A woman and child sitting on the ground at a refugee camp A woman with a basketful of bananas on her back Fleeing a fire at a Hmong refugee camp An elderly Hmong woman at a refugee camp A woman holding a story cloth A man weaving a basket at a  Hmong refugee camp

Location | Themes | Reflections | How We Did It

Introduction: Refugee Experiences

Izzy S.

The Hmong people fled Laos (a country in Asia) and crossed Mekong river into Thailand. Why flee Laos? Because the communists were attacking villages and killing people. They had to get out of Laos! So they depended on their neighbors, the Thai people, for help.

Soon there were a number of refugee camps set up where the Hmong crossed the Mekong river. Bonwinai was the biggest. If they were lucky, they would cross near a Thai village and someone would feed them and give them clothes, then they would tell the people at the refugee camps.

At first the refugees had to sleep in tents, but eventually families were given wood and nails and most people had tin roofs. For meals, they would get rice and maybe some meat, they would go to the cook house to get your ration cooked. Eventually, that changed too when the camps had been there a while, each family had a fire pit in their house.

No one had jobs there, so there was a lot of free time after you settled in. The men would play soccer from sun up to sun down. The children, if parents want them to, could go to school and they were also taught by Thai officials how to play hopscotch; they played that and other games too.

Because no one had jobs and the Hmong people had little or no money what-so-ever, they sometimes snuck out. There was a metal fence with barbed wire on it and later a three-feet deep ditch to prevent this, they still found a way to get out. When they got out they usually had to walk five or so miles to get to the nearest village. Then they would find a one-time job that often paid very low. Then they would sneak back.

Another way they got money is after the gates opened to America, the families that went sometimes would send money back along with letter and if their relative couldn’t read, they would send cassette tapes back and they could buy a tape player or borrow one from someone. The Hmong women soon got recruited to make paj ntaub and send to America , where people would sell them and they would get the money. This brought up the problem of families not depending on the men.

There was another problem. The Thai officials were given money by U.N.H.C.R. (United Nations of High Commission over Refugees) to buy food for the refugees. The officials used their power in a bad way, they sometimes used only half the money for the refugees and kept the other half for themselves. Or else they take some of the rice for themselves. Also mice or other rodents would chew holes in the rice bags and the rice that fell on the floor, they would sweep back up and they’d give it to the refugees.

In this way many people got sick and also if one person got sick, they were cramped so tight that many people would get sick, and at the hospital, they would run out [of] medicine and people would have to share needles.
–Izzy S.