They were the walking dead. Refugees in flight. Forty thousand strong, they had survived four years of genocide, starvation, concentration camps, and invasion by a foreign army. As they staggered across the border of a neighboring country, seeking asylum, they moved in eerie silence. Every few minutes, someone fell into the mud and died.

The country to which the refugees fled was poor and underdeveloped. With no local resources to handle the ongoing crises, the host government turned to the international community for assistance. When they received mixed signals about the prospects for refugee resettlement, the army loaded the refugees into buses and drove them back to the border.

The point of “repatriation” was a steep cliff that overlooked a heavily mined field. The refugees were pushed to the edge, and then the soldiers began firing into the crowd. In the ensuing stampede, thousands of people fell to their deaths. Thousands more of them survived the precarious descent only to be blown up by land mines when they reached the valley below.

It is not known how many Cambodians died that day in 1979 on the border of Thailand, although estimates range from 10 to 30 thousand. Of the survivors, many were subsequently killed by the Khmer Rouge or imprisoned by the invading Vietnamese. Many others died of disease or starvation.

The Refugee Problem Worldwide

The incomprehensible tragedy of Cambodia has not gone unrecognized in the evangelical Protestant community, where many churches have had firsthand experience resettling refugees from Southeast Asia. Less understood, however, is the depth and scope of the overall refugee crisis facing the world in the late 1980s.

The number of refugees worldwide is conservatively estimated ...

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