HOF011: Chamroeum Lay

During the presidency of Lon Nol from 1962 to 1975, Chamroeun Lay’s family moved to Phnom Penh from Tuol Kouk, Cambodia to escape the onslaught of the civil war.  In time, he and his family were forced to deal with the oppressive social and economic policies of the Khmer Rouge. The Communists forced him to join a youth mobile team, toiling from dusk until dawn. Food was scarce, and as a result, some Cambodians either died from starvation or the brutality of the labour camps.

In early 1979, after the Vietnamese invasion, he returned to Phnom Penh to work as a public servant for the Cambodian Foreign Affairs department, under the supervision of the Vietnamese government. Once employed, he soon began to question the ruling government’s political system and concluded that the power structure was no different than that of the Khmer Rouge regime. Consequently, he chose to flee his country and made his way to the Thai border.

In September 1979, he found work in a medical ward at a refugee camp. He eventually worked for the Canadian embassy, where his claim for refugee status was processed.  Eventually, with mixed emotions, he found himself looking out an airplane window at a landscape filled with snow and the promise of a new life.