HOF099: Soth Chhlam

Soth Chhlam was born in a small city in Battambang province, Cambodia where he lived with his parents and nine brothers and sisters. His father was a schoolteacher and his mother cared for the family. When the Khmer Rouge invaded Cambodia in 1975, the family lived in constant danger. The Khmer Rouge separated families. Adolescent children and their older siblings were grouped into “mobile teams” and sent to the rice fields. Soth was eighteen years old. Most young workers were kept separated from their families for months at a time. They were forced to work from dawn until dusk, seven days a week. They were beaten if they didn’t work hard, forced to work when they were ill, and meals were severely rationed.

At times, soldiers would lead young men or women away from the rice fields and murdered them. Some members of his team shared tragic stories about the disappearance of family members. The risks to their lives were greater if family members were associated with the former Cambodian government or with the Cambodian army and police.

In the rice fields, the young workers experienced many skirmishes between the Khmer and Vietnamese soldiers. On the following morning of one of those battles, Soth and his comrades awoke to discover that their captors had abandoned them. They took that opportunity to flee the rice fields in the hopes of escaping, and experienced many treacherous events before reaching a UNHCR camp near the Thai border. Soth remained in the camp for several months where he recovered from serious injuries.

Soth considers himself very lucky to have been able to escape from Cambodia. He met with Canadian immigration officials in the Kamput refugee camp where he obtained asylum to Canada in 1984.