An Alaska Woman’s Voyage Out of the Killing Fields of Cambodia (KTVA.com exclusive)
Samantha Bouasri recalls her hellish trip escaping the Khmer Rouge and arriving in an America not as welcoming as she’d imagined
Doctors examined her, confused, with no solutions to her problem. She describes the hospital as a tent with only three doctors holding thousands of ill and injured Cambodian refugees.
The doctors suggested she move to the Khao-I-Dang Holding Center. They were promised better doctors and more medicine. Again Bouasri and her family set out on a journey. Khao-I-Dang was the most sufficiently equipped refugee camp on the Thai border. The camp, full of small huts made of bamboo with thatched roofs and a real hospital, became Bouasri’s recovery center for the next few months, as well as the home for roughly 84,800 others.
“I stay in the hospital for a while, but then they tell me I can’t stay anymore,” says Bouasri. “They needed the bed for other people, sick and injured.”
Doctors then directed her to a small tent where her father and grandmother looked after her, walking her back to the hospital on a daily basis. With approximately 1,600 new refugees arriving daily, the camp was forced to close its doors to newcomers looking for food, shelter and medical attention. “They began injecting me with protein shots, and when that seemed to be working they gave me other nutritions, and in three months I was recovered,” Bouasri says with a smile.
In August of 1981 her father made a deal with friends of the family. They would pose as her aunt and uncle, and take Bouasri with them to San Francisco if her father agreed to return to Cambodia to bring more people to Thailand. He agreed – and that would be the last time she saw him until 1984.
By the time she was preparing to leave the refugee camp, she was labeled an orphan. “My father said we would all die if we stayed together so he say we must split up.” The orphanage provided her with shelter and food – commodities that were scarce in camp.
“So I changed my name, lied about my age and was able to come to America with a family that had been very close to mine. I always say, since I have no belongings from Khmer Rouge, that Cambodia took everything, even my name.”
Bouasri asked that KTVA not release her real name. “There are some people that I want to believe I am dead.”
She left Thailand with only the shirt on her back, not even a pair of shoes. After her arrival she struggled significantly.
“I was a slave to that family.” She was forced to sleep in the kitchen and was raped by the husband of the family she came with and his friends. She eventually escaped.
Outside the home, life wasn’t any better. She was constantly under assault, which consisted of racial slurs; people would throw feces and dirty diapers at her.
“People were mean,” Bouasri says. “They told me to go back to where I came from and they [would] chop of parts of my hair. I would ask myself why I came here, and why they [are] doing this to me? What’s the point?”