Two summers ago, I went to my mother’s home country, Cambodia. To be honest, I didn’t really have any expectations going into the country. Everything I knew about Cambodia was either history relayed from my mother talking about her experiences or a brief mention in a history book about the Vietnam War.
A lot of people don’t realize that after the American troops left Vietnam, a man name Pol Pot and his followers — the Khmer Rouge — were able to oust the leader and create a communist society. They began to systematically kill all of those who would seem a threat to their new society. My grandfather, a watchmaker, was supposed to be killed twice; they just got the name wrong. I learned all this only when I went to Cambodia.
The Cambodian refugee crisis that resulted from the communist takeover was little known to the United States at the time. The American troops left Vietnam, and there was relative “peace” in the country, so everything was seemingly stable in southwest Asia. There was no huge initiative to help the tens of thousands of Cambodians fleeing the country in search of a better life during that time. In fact, no aid was able to go through the border to Cambodia, and the Thai government could not and did not want to accommodate the thousands of fleeing refugees. At this point, it doesn’t seem coincidental how history seems to repeat itself because this same problem is happening right now with the European migrant crisis.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the number of “forcibly displaced people” reached 59.5 million people by the end of 2014, a 40 percent increase from 2011. The death toll of refugees attempting to reach Europe by sea in August was around 2,000, according to the International Organization of Migration.
Maybe I’m just ignorant when it comes to current events, but it’s almost the end of 2015, and we are just starting to hear about this migration crisis in the news. Why did it take so long for this news to travel?
Living in the United States, it seems as though the problems of countries across the ocean will never affect us or that we have no power to take action. However, in this day and age of global connection, the goings-on across the world will affect us one way or another, so why not take notice? There is no need for the United States and Europe to fail to acknowledge certain issues just because they do not involve them.
Harvard-Westlake has taken some action to educate the school community about this crisis with programs like Human Rights Watch. However, I think we can do more. Let’s start a conversation. Let’s talk about the current immigration laws in Europe and the United States and look back at previous actions taken by the respective governments. Let’s have a wider scope of the world in the classroom.
As someone whose parents are both refugees who found asylum in the United States, I can only ask that we broaden our view of history and current events. Maybe this time, we can prevent history from repeating itself.