Photographic Exhibit: Shuttered Lives

Photographic Exhibit: Shuttered Lives

Photographic Exhibit: Shuttered Lives

In cooperation with The Human Rights Center, the South/Southeast Asia Library, and the Berkeley Programs For Study Abroad, Asian American Studies co-sponsored Shuttered Lives: A Photographic Exhibit of the Pierre Toutain-Dorbec Collection in the Doe Library from January 15 to April 18, 2010. Created by Professor Khatharya Um, these photographs show Cambodian refugees in the border camps in the late 1970s-early 1980s. Professor Um writes:

In the aftermath of the “Vietnam War”, renewed conflict, revolution and mass atrocities provoked a refugee exodus on mainland Southeast Asia that was historically unprecedented in scale and complexity. At the peak of the crisis, over one million refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia sought refuge in camps in Thailand, in wait for a chance for permanent resettlement, or for safe return to their homelands. Those who fled from Cambodia were survivors of the Khmer Rouge auto-genocidal regime, many of them children, sole survivors in their family. In less than four years, between one-fourth and one-third of the country’s population perished from hard labor, starvation and summary executions. Vietnam’s invasion and occupation of Cambodia brought the collapse of Democratic Kampuchea in 1979. In the face of renewed conflict, famine and foreign occupation that was to last a decade, hundreds of thousands of survivors fled to the Thai border. The journey across heavily mined, malaria plagued, and violence-ridden jungle, was perilous, made even more desperate by brutal pushback from Thai security forces. Some made it across the border.  Many did not. Against liminality, violence, and despair, survivors fought to rebuild lives and community with the only weapon they had — their determination to survive as a nation. Following the signing of the Cambodia peace treaty in 1991, and in anticipation of the UN sponsored elections, some 325,000 Cambodians were repatriated back to Cambodia. Some had been in the camps for over a decade. In addition, between 1975-1990, close to 145,000 refugees were permanently resettled in the United States, mostly in California. Pierre Toutain-Dorbec’s photographic collection provides rare and raw glimpses of pain, despair, and hope, re-inserting humanity into numbing statistics about displacement.