Tuesday, October 7, 2014
CAMBODIA: A Refuge for the Refuse In early 1998, when I first visited Cambodia, the biggest headlines on the local news media were about toxic wastes exported from Taiwan to a landfill located on the coastlines of Cambodia. Reacting to the story, I first wondered why in the world would toxic wastes from Taiwan ended up in Cambodia? It turned out that the wastes were part of a business deal between local Cambodian waste management company and a Taiwanese firm. The toxic wastes business would have run unabated were it not for the local people who fell ill or died after scavenging for usable materials, such as burlap sacks, from the dump site. Fast forward several years to the 2000s decade, another noticeable headline was about Cambodia aggreeing to take back its native sons or daughters, who were convicted criminals, from the United States of America. Upon hearing the news, I, once again, scratched my head in bewilderment. For the United States (which happens to be my adopted home, and reputedly the richest country on the planet) to send her beasts of burden (convicted criminals) to Cambodia seemed to run contradictory to every basic human rights priciple the U.S. is known to have advocated. However, one would point to the fact that those Cambodian-born convicts were not U.S. citizens, and, therefore, could not be expected to receive the same rights as U.S. citizens do. In any case, the fact that these convicted people being sent to Cambodia were not U.S. citizens was beside the point. The crux of the matter, or the elephant in the room, which officials from both, Cambodia and the United States, pretended not to see, is that human beings were being treated like toxic wastes. This might be too harsh a comparison. But if we look at the issue closely, the comparison of these unwanted human beings to toxic wastes is probably the best metaphor for it. After all, both are unwanted matters. Just as Taiwan once found Cambodia a convenient place to dump its toxic wastes, the U.S. found Cambodia to be an ideal place to shelter her convicted criminals. We should point out that along with those criminals, the U.S. has paid Cambodia some money in the form of aid to help ease the burden of hosting those unwanted people. Recently, Cambodia has struck yet another deal with Australia agreeing to help resettle refugees whom the Australian policy makers deem illegal, or otherwise unworthy of living among them. Behind the veil of this humanitarian charade, we learned that Australia is allegedly paying Cambodia about $40 million in exchange for accepting those refugees. To keep this hush payment less obvious, the money would be given to Cambodia in the form of increased development aid. Once again, we see that both the U.S. and Australia have used the same strategy to transfer unwanted people to Cambodia. Call it repatriation, resettlement, or whatever it is, the hard truth behind both of these despicable actions is that human beings are being treated like toxic wastes. In a parallel ethical dilemma, the business of paying one country to accept unwanted human beings from another country is nothing short of an "official" human trafficking. As a former refugee and victim of human trafficking, I could tell from experience that in the human trafficking business, money is the only agent that makes human trafficking happen. Without money in the equation, it is impossible to conduct the business. I am not against either the repatriation of Cambodian convicts from the U.S. to, or resettlement of refugees from Australia in Cambodia, as long as the process is voluntary, and there is no money involved in the transaction. But, as far as I know, none of the Cambodian convicts being repatriated from the U.S. to Cambodia volunteered to go there. The same seems to be true with the refugees from Australia. If leading democratic countries like the U.S. and Australia, which hold human rights respect in high esteem, make a mockery of human rights like this, one could only wonder if there is any human rights advocate left on this planet. If my historical memory is accurate, I believe many ancestors of present-day (White) Australians were victims of similar act of human trafficking. About 200 years ago, Great Britain sent many of her convicted criminals, prostitutes, and other forms of human "refuse" to the shores of Australia to get rid of what the Britons might have deemed unwholesome, or unwanted people. Now, after some 200 years later, history appears to repeat itself when descendants of the victims of this form of "official" human traficking turn around and committed the same act of which their ancestors would have disapproved. To this end, one could only hope that those pioneering Australian settlers who had endured and suffered so much to bring about Australia as we know it today would not turn in their graves in disgust.