Refugees Among Us

October 10, 2008

Boston Globe

Nuon family and Photographer Nancy Carbonaro. Image copyright: Boston Globe

A featured article about a humanitarian photographer and a small bakery in Wellesley, Massachusetts shows many refugees in the United States contribute a great deal to the economic growth and the cultural life of their communities. The story was featured in the Boston Globe. Photographer Nancy Carbonaro was often a customer at the Nuon’s family bakery but never knew the family’s refugee background until she returned from a trip to Cambodia. What she discovered moved her a great deal:

Nuon’s family [the bakery shop owners] lived in Cambodia in the time of the Khmer Rouge, the communist party that ruled the country from 1975 to 1979. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, the regime was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million people, or roughly one-fifth of the country’s population, through torture, execution and starvation in its campaign to remake Cambodia into a radical agrarian society…

…The family’s surviving members eventually made their way to a refugee camp in the Philippines, then came to the United States in November 1982, thanks to the sponsorship of a Stoughton family who let the Nuons live in their guesthouse.

As Americans, the Nuon family wants to continue to the rich humanitarian tradition of their new home in the United States by improving the conditions of their homeland. As Mara Nuon states, “When you’ve been there, you’re not going to say, ‘I’ve made it, the hell with you.’ I’m looking for an organization where I can go and be effective, and do whatever I can do to make a difference.”

Massachusetts is estimated to have the second largest population of Cambodian refugees in the United States, where roughly 50,000 have built their homes and become a large ethnic group in cities like Lowell, Massachusetts. However, Long Beach, California has the largest Cambodian refugee populations and was the first site many were resettled to because of the cheap housing market and similar climate conditions to Cambodia.

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Sudanese troops have opened fire inside a Darfur refugee camp, leaving 27 people dead, a rebel group has said.

Some 100 government trucks surrounded the Kalma camp, home to some 90,000 people who have fled their homes in Darfur, a rebel spokesman told the BBC

Nothing has changed. Before the 2008 Beijing Olympics began, there was a lot of speculation about human rights organizations protesting the Chinese government’s role in the genocide in Darfur. Activist coined the term “genocide games” and athletes formed Team Darfur to pressure China to intervene in stopping the Sudanese government from killing internally displaced persons in Darfur. Two weeks went by, Michael Phelps won eight gold medals, and the world (I mean, Americans) seemed more outraged by the injustice over the age of the Chinese women’s gymnastics team, than they were about the 300,000 that have been killed and the two million displaced during the five years of fighting in Sudan’s Darfur region.

Some human rights activist thought the Olympic games would be a time to showcase China’s human rights abuses but in reality, it came and went. We’re back to square one.