HOF127: Samath Yi

Yi Samath is a native of the district of Sithor Kandal, in the province of Prey Veng in south-east Cambodia. He was the youngest of a family of six children. His parents were farmers and the family was poor. Consequently, Yi was forced to leave school at an early age in order to earn a living. In 1965, he left his village to learn to work as a tailor in Phnom Penh.

During his career, he worked at several clothing shops. In 1975, when the Khmer Rouge invaded Phnom Penh, he recalls that he and thousands of his fellow citizens were forced by their invaders to leave the capital. They were expected to evacuate without the company of their relatives. They were not allowed to bring their possessions with them at the time of their departure.

In time, Yi was able to reconnect with some members of his family, including his wife and child. Yi was determined to leave his country as he feared for the lives of his family. The group walked through their country for miles seeking refuge in the villages that they encountered during their long trek. They encountered fields of cadavers and landmines or spied Cambodians imprisoned by the Khmer Rouge. In early 1980, they eventually reached the Khao I Dang refugee camp where they stayed for almost a year, after which they crossed border into Thailand.

Finally, Yi and his family were sponsored by his brother-in-law living in Canada. The family’s migration was delayed by issues with Yi’s disability, but the family was eventually granted asylum in Montréal, Québec in July 1981. After their sponsorship, Yi and his spouse were able to secure employment in Montréal where they settled permanently.