Concern worked across every section of camp but our largest operations were in the unofficial border camps where teams of nurses and engineers ran the maternal child health clinics and sanitation services for hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Situated in what was an active war zone, these camps were frequently attacked. Everyone remembers Christmas Day 1984 when Nong Samet, one of the largest camps, was heavily shelled, forcing thousands to flee.
We worked with the UN and other agencies to relocate and rebuild these camps, not once but multiple times. Eventually 11 of the border camp were consolidated into a new camp, further away from the border and the shelling. Site 2, as it was called, became home to 198,000 refugees. A massive, sprawling, city of bamboo.
It was the largest refugee settlement in South East Asia.
While the camp offered sanctuary, lack of employment, overcrowding and shortages of food and water made life for the refugees under these precarious circumstances extremely difficult and had to be endured for many years.
It wasn’t until the signing of the 1991 Paris peace accords and the establishment of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia that the prospect for a peaceful return was possible.
Khao-I-Dang was the first camp to close. For 13 years it had been a desperately overcrowded sanctuary and a critical gateway for resettlement to a third country. At the closing ceremony in March 1993, the UN Special representative Sergio de Mello called Khao-I-Dang a powerful and tragic symbol of the Cambodian exodus and the international humanitarian response.