TIME photography

Bearing Witness to the Legacy of War

Photographer Giles Duley, who lost three limbs in Afghanistan, speaks about his new project

In 2011, photographer Giles Duley began a project that would document the lasting effects of war on people living in cities and towns across the globe where the fighting had ended many years, even decades ago.

That year, while patrolling in Afghanistan with American troops, Duley stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device. The blast nearly took his life; he lost both legs and an arm. After a year in the hospital and nearly 30 operations, Duley returned to photography with a new determination to finish his project, which he calls Legacy of War. The project encompasses 14 countries and comprises photographs, original poetry and music.

Last month, he launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the project, which you can contribute to here. Below, TIME Multimedia Editor Mia Tramz caught up with Duley as he continued his work on the project from Cambodia.

TIME LightBox: What’s the scope of the project and the idea behind it?

Giles Duley: The idea came to me I guess four or five years ago. A lot of my work has been documenting the effects of conflict over the years. One of the things I noticed was that there was a lot of commonality between the stories that I heard, and so I became interested in trying to bring all these different stories together. I was actually going to Afghanistan to start the project when I got injured, so I thought it would never actually happen. My plan was if I could get working again, I would return to doing this project.

The thing that really strikes me is that a war doesn’t end when a peace treaty is signed. In school, as you’re growing up, you’re always taught about the dates of a particular conflict. And I was interested [by] what happens after this final date; what happens when the conflict is supposedly finished. Because what I’ve experienced in my work was that the war is not over if people are still dying from it, if they’re still injured, if their lives are still impaired by it.

My idea was to try and bring together stories from approximately 14 countries, showing various themes that kind of crop up in post-conflict countries. That might be land contamination from land mines, from UXOs and it might be the effects of things like Agent Orange or depleted uranium. But it’s also looking at the physical effects on people who are living with injuries, and people living with the psychological trauma of conflict. I wanted to bring all these different stories together and just get people to reflect on the fact that conflict doesn’t end when a peace treaty is signed.

TIME LightBox: Which countries will you be covering and how did you choose them?

Giles Duley: One of the things I kind of want to do is to bring together stories that may be a little bit more familiar to us with stories that are less familiar. Hopefully, by bringing them together, you get to understand the similarities. In the United States, I wanted to look at the effects of trauma on former combatants, especially soldiers from [the] Vietnam War, how their lives have been affected. The same in the U.K. looking at injured servicemen and [those] with PTSD. Then it’s countries like Vietnam with Agent Orange and UXO; Cambodia, Colombia, Laos and other countries like it by land mines. I’ll be doing stories in Angola, which has a huge legacy of war; in Congo or the DRC, I’ll be looking at the effects of sexual abuse in both men and women. In Northern Ireland, I’m looking at the effects of the troubles, [which have] caused poverty and other social issues.

Other countries [will include] Gaza, [where] I’ll be looking at the long-term effects of conflict there. I’ve already done a story on the refugees in Lebanon, a country which really had two tiers of refugees from war. I’ll be looking at refugees in Sahel Sahara. It’s a vast cross-section of stories.

TIME LightBox: How did you arrive at the aesthetic for this project?

Giles Duley: I actually decided to use film for this project — a mixture of 35 mm and medium format. The main reason for film is that I wanted the images to both have a timeless feel and to serve as documents. Many of the photographs will reflect the period when the conflict happened and at the same time, a print made from a negative has a sense of true documentation. In a period when many question the role of Photoshop and other manipulation in documentary photography, I wanted to return to a simpler process.

TIME LightBox: Outside of the photography, what other components are you working into the project?

Giles Duley: I want this to be more than just a set of photographs. As a child, I was really influenced by the poets of the First World War and the black-and-white photographs covering the Vietnam War. They were the two things that really changed my opinion as a very young teenager about conflict. I grew up as a kid [thinking] that I wanted to join the army. I was fascinated by military history. But as I say, it was reading this poetry of people like Sassoon and Wilfred Owen and looking at the photographs of people like Don McCullin that really galvanized something in me, that made me realize the true consequences of war.

I’m very interested in the educational component. I realized that schools are still studying poetry from the First World War. So what I want to do is update that and get poets and musicians writing about current conflicts and their long-term consequences. For me as a photographer, I hope that the poetry and the music will add a different dimension to the work, so that it’s more accessible to people.

TIME LightBox: What’s your process working with these musicians and poets? Are they seeing the photographs you’re making from those particular parts of the world, or are they just writing or creating from their own experiences, or a mix of both?

Giles Duley: Anybody that’s working with me on this project will either be traveling with me at a later stage in the project, or it will be a process of me meeting them, showing them the photographs, and probably most importantly sharing the testimonies of the people who are photographed.

TIME LightBox: What has surprised you most since you started working on this project about what you’re finding?

Giles Duley: I don’t know if it surprised me, but what I’m becoming very aware of is just the enormity of how conflict affects life. [For example], in Vietnam, Laos and Lebanon and Cambodia — you start to look at one story, and immediately that opens up 10 other stories. It’s often in less expected ways or [something] you just don’t think about. Some of the stories are more obvious, like land mines, etc. But when you look at the long-term impact of a child that was born to a woman who was raped, that is a real legacy of war. And they live with that legacy for all of their lives — the psychological trauma of people affected by war is something that is not often talked about or documented, but whole generations of civilians have been traumatized by conflict.

TIME LightBox: Can you talk about where you see the project living when it’s finished and in what form?

Giles Duley: This is a project that has four phases. The first phase is the photographic phase, which is to go out there and document the initial stories. The second phase is to work with poets and musicians to give more depth to the stories. The third phase is then looking at how that body of work comes together through exhibitions and a book. For me that stage is very important because the exhibitions have to be in public spaces. They have to be in places where people interact with these stories who wouldn’t normally go to a photographic gallery.

And I’m also very interested in taking the project back to the countries that I’ve photographed. One of the things that most surprised me is how interested people are in the other countries I’m photographing. People in Northern Ireland are asking me about the people in Rwanda. The people in Vietnam are very interested in stories that I’m going to be doing in Angola, for example.

One of the key elements is, as well as having the photographs exhibited in the public spaces in Western countries, it’s for the exhibitions to return to the countries where these stories first came from, so the stories are shared. Because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about sharing stories. I have no judgments, I have no opinions. I’m merely going out there to try and gather the stories of people affected by conflict and to share those stories.

And then the final stage, the fourth stage, will be educational. And that’s about taking it to schools. It’s about getting it on the curriculum, [so that when] people are taught the historical facts of a conflict, they’re also taught about how a conflict continues to affect people [long after it’s over]. That’s how I see it developing. And hopefully, in the end, it will be something that will kind of take on a life of its own and I can step back and people can continue to share these stories.

TIME LightBox: Your story is also woven into this. How has your experience informed your approach to this project and how it has been integrated into it?

Giles Duley: No matter what I choose to do for the rest of my life, I will live with the scars, both physically and mentally of what happened. So it’s given me a great understanding. But I think more than that it’s kind of focused my ambition and determination to carry this project through because, as I say, every day now I live with a reminder of what conflict does.

It has opened up communication with a lot of people that may have been more suspicious of why I was doing this story; people who see my personal experience and can relate to it. I guess weirdly, although I may be a lot slower as a photographer now and it may be a bit harder for me to work, there’s probably not a photographer in a better position to actually tell these specific stories about the legacy of war.

TIME LightBox: What do you see as the biggest challenges in getting this project done?

Giles Duley: The biggest challenges on a personal level are the travel, the work. I have no legs and I’ve got one hand, and I travel on my own to do this work. It’s not easy. I must admit last year when I found myself in paddy fields in the rainy season in Laos, trying to carry all my cameras and a backpack and my legs getting stuck in the mud, I was thinking, “O.K., who came up with this idea?” [Laughs.] So the obvious challenges like that are there, that in a weird way as I say, also drive me on to complete the story.

Aside from that, obviously this is a project that I’m self-funding. It’s something that I think is important. A lot of NGOs and nonprofits and charities are helping me with the stories. I have years and years of working with NGOs and they’ve been fantastic in supporting this project. So the likes of MAG, which is a de-mining charity; Handicap International; UNHCR; Emergency, which is an Italian NGO; and Find a Better Way, which is another land-mine charity, have all been supporting it. But at the end of the day, I have to find a way to finance these stories, or at least finance the physical costs of the photographic side of it.

The project really I think for me is the defining project of my life. It will probably be the last major overseas project I do because it’s simply so physically draining and difficult for me. But I am determined to carry this out to the utmost of my ability.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Giles Duley is a freelance photographer and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. Follow him on Twitter @gilesduley.

Mia Tramz is a Multimedia Editor for TIME.com. Follow her on Twitter @miatramz.

TIME Asia

Seven Out of 10 Kids Across Five Asian Nations Experienced Violence at School

Indonesia reported the worst rate of school violence, with 84% of children having experienced it

Seven out of 10 children in Asia have experienced violence in school, a study of over 9,000 students across five countries revealed.

Conducted by children’s-rights group Plan under its Promoting Equality and Safety in Schools initiative, the study collected data from male and female students ages 12 to 17, as well as others involved in their education like parents, teachers and headmasters, in Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan and Nepal.

The study has several disturbing implications, with emotional violence being the most prevalent form of school harassment, followed by physical violence. More boys reported facing physical violence than girls did, and regressive gender attitudes are a significant contributor to school violence overall.

Indonesia showed the highest rate of gender-based violence in schools out of the five countries surveyed, with 84% of students having experienced violence, while Pakistan had the lowest at 43%. “Even the bottom end of the scale — 43% in Pakistan — is unacceptable,” said Mark Pierce, Plan’s Asia regional director.

The prevalence of the problem in the Southeast Asian nation is illustrated by shocking videos uploaded to YouTube, like the one below that shows a girl at a primary school in West Sumatra’s Bukittinggi being kicked and beaten by her classmates.

Another video, uploaded as recently as last month, shows another girl being held in a choke hold by a male peer while another jumps in and out of the frame to punch her and make suggestive motions — culminating in an all-out brawl.

Several other causes and factors contributing to school violence — perpetrated by both peers and authority figures — exist even within the limited scope of the study, such as students’ lack of trust in existing reporting mechanisms, traditional and cultural norms, and a low rate of intervention by observers.

With reporting by Yenni Kwok

TIME Cambodia

Witness Describes Khmer Rouge’s Gruesome Torture During Genocide Trial

CAMBODIA-UN-TRIAL-GENOCIDE
Tang Chhin Sothy—AFP/Getty Images Cambodian and international journalists watch a live video feed showing former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan during a hearing for his trial at the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia in Phnom Penh on Jan. 8, 2015

Former detainee recounts savage torture episodes committed by communist cadres

Khmer Rouge security officials used acid and pliers to torture inmates and disemboweled a detainee and consumed her organs, according to witness testimony given in Phnom Penh this week.

On Monday, former prisoner Keo Chandara told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) — a tribunal created to investigate the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge — that guards used pliers and acid to torture female detainees incarcerated at the Kraing Tachan security center.

According to his testimony, prison guards at the facility would use the pliers to lacerate the inmates before pouring acid into the wounds. If the detainees passed out due to the excessive pain, the overseers would then use water to revive them.

“About 10 prisoners who were ordered to sit and watch the torture,” said Keo Chandara, reports the Cambodia Daily.

During one particularly gruesome episode, Keo Chandara said the guards hanged one prisoner by a hook through her mouth and then cut out her heart, gall bladder and liver after she was unable to answer questions during an interrogation session.

“One of them asked that the liver be fried and the gall bladder kept for him,” Keo Chandara told the court, according to the broadcaster Voice of America.

The Chinese-backed cadres took the extremities of central planning to new heights during their reign over the kingdom from 1975 to 1979. Cities were evacuated, intellectuals and members of the middle class were executed and currency abolished as the communists launched their ill-fated collectivist reforms that led to mass starvation and wanton savagery.

Approximately 1.7 million people — a quarter of the national population — are believed to have died under Khmer Rouge rule.

Vietnamese forces eventually dislodged the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979; however, guerrilla bands loyal to the outfit continued to battle the central government into the late 1990s.

The ECCC is currently investigating genocide charges against two of the Khmer Rouge’s last surviving top cadres, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, who were sentenced to life in prison for committing crimes against humanity last year.

TIME Cambodia

Cambodian Guards Drank Wine With Human Gallbladders, Says Genocide Survivor

Skulls are stacked on top of each other at a "Killing Fields" memorial in Batey district in Kampong Cham province
Chor Sokunthea—Reuters Skulls are stacked on top of each other at a Killing Fields memorial in Batey district in Kampong Cham province, 125 km (78 miles) east of Phnom Penh on March 28, 2009

Horrific testimony made at atrocity trial

In the 1970s, Khmer Rouge guards would drink wine infused with human gallbladders, according to a survivor of Cambodia’s infamous Killing Fields.

Former detainee Meas Sokha told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia Khmer Rouge (ECCC) — a special tribunal created to investigate the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime — that guards at a prison in Takeo province would dry out the gallbladders of inmates and steep them in wine, reports the Cambodia Daily.

“Whenever there were killings, the guards would drink wine with a gallbladder. I could see gallbladders drying in the sun and I knew these were from human beings,” said Meas Sokha, who was imprisoned for three years in 1976. “There were so many [gallbladders] dried by the fence, it was put in wine for drinking and to make people brave.”

Sokha also told the U.N.-backed ECCC that he witnessed between 20 and 100 killings in a single day.

In some East Asian medical traditions, the use of animal bile in drinks — usually snake or bear bile — is thought to promote virility.

From 1975 until 1979, Cambodia experienced one of the most savage genocides of the 20th century, during which around 1.7 million people — a quarter of the national population — perished as the Khmer Rouge, the nation’s communist party led by the French-educated Pol Pot, pursued its agrarian utopia.

The court is currently investigating genocide charges against Khieu Samphan, 83, the regime’s head of state, and Nuon Chea, 88. Both were sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity in August.

TIME Cambodia

Cambodia’s Internal-Security Chief: ‘I Learned From Hitler’

Thai Defence Minister General Yuthasak S
Tang Chhin Sothy—AFP/Getty Images Thai Defense Minister General Yuthasak Sasiprapa, left, shakes hands with Cambodia's internal-security chief Sao Sokha, right, upon his arrival at the Ministry of Defense in Phnom Penh on Sept. 23, 2011

Nazi dictator hailed as an example for states wishing to maintain social order

A top Cambodian security official has praised one of history’s most reviled dictators, Adolf Hitler, at a speech in the country’s capital, Phnom Penh.

Commander General Sao Sokha, who heads the paramilitary Royal Gendarmerie and sits on the central committee of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said that states that wanted to maintain social order should look no further than the wartime Nazi Chancellor of Germany.

“Speaking frankly, I learned from Hitler,” Sao Sokha said, according to the Cambodia Daily. “Germany, after World War I, was not allowed by the international community to have more than 100,000 soldiers, but the Nazis and Hitler did whatever so they could to wage World War II.”

He claimed the Third Reich’s rise during the 1930s was an invaluable example for Cambodia, after its bloody civil war of the 1960s and ’70s.

On Wednesday, the impoverished Southeast Asian nation of 15 million marked three decades of rule by strongman Hun Sen.

According to Human Rights Watch, Hun Sen’s regime has been blighted by “extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, summary trials, censorship, bans on assembly and association, and a national network of spies and informers intended to frighten and intimidate the public into submission.”

Seems the admiration would likely cut both ways.

TIME Infectious Disease

Unlicensed Cambodian Medic Charged With Murder After Allegedly Spreading HIV

212 HIV cases were found in the community where he practiced

An unlicensed medic is being charged with murder after Cambodian medical authorities found 212 cases of HIV in the district where he had been treating patients, allegedly with contaminated equipment.

Yem Chrin treated poor patients and was believed to have healing powers, Reuters reports. However, he did not have a medical license and was allegedly delivering injections and blood transfusions using unclean equipment. Authorities tested 1,940 people in the northwestern province where Yem Chrin worked, and 212 tested positive for HIV. Some children as young as 6 years old tested positive for the virus, according to al-Jazeera.

Yem Chrin allegedly told police that he sometimes used the same syringe on two or three patients before disposing of it.

The World Health Organization and UNAIDS found that “the percentage of people that reported receiving an injection or intravenous infusion as part of their health treatment was significantly higher among the people who tested positive for HIV than the people who were HIV negative,” in the area in which Yem Chrin treated patients, Reuters reports.

The development is a setback in Cambodia’s largely successful efforts to eradicate the virus since it first spread through the country in the 1990s.

[Reuters]

TIME Australia

Australia’s Plan to Outsource Its Refugee Problem to Cambodia Won’t Work

Refugee Deal Signed Off By Cambodian & Australian Ministers
Omar Havana—Getty Images Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng hold a flute of champagne after signing a deal to resettle refugees from Australia to Cambodia at the Ministry of Interior on September 26, 2014 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Impoverished, repressive and corrupt Cambodia is no place for an asylum seeker

“Let them eat cake.” Australia’s Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison did everything but utter the unsavory phrase attributed to Marie Antoinette when he clinked Champagne flutes with Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng, a former cadre of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, at a ceremony in Phnom Penh last week.

The toast celebrated the signing of a controversial memorandum of understanding to resettle in Cambodia asylum seekers intercepted at sea while attempting to make landfall in Australia. Those asylum seekers are currently languishing in an offshore detention center in the Pacific island state of Nauru.

Morrison refused to answer questions from the local and foreign press corps packing the garishly decorated room. However, in a written statement released at the signing, he commended Cambodia for “making countless efforts to develop the country after civil war [and for] demonstrating its ability and willingness to contribute positively to this humanitarian issue.”

His Cambodian counterpart Kheng likewise remained mum but could do little to hide a beaming smile as his government pocketed a $35 million signing fee from Australia plus an allegorical blank check to cover the cost of resettling up to 1,233 predominantly Middle Eastern asylum seekers.

The deal was quickly condemned by a wide range of pundits as a diplomatic stunt that, if actioned, will see one of the world’s wealthiest nations outsource its refugee problem to one of the poorest.

“It’s shameful, despicable and unconscionable. It makes me sick,” Hong Lim, a former Cambodian refugee and MP in the Australian state of Victoria, tells TIME. “Scott Morrison has earned himself the title of the most notorious human [trafficker] of the year.” He adds, “Cambodia has a terrible record of treating refugees.”

Lim points to the 2009 deportation at gunpoint of 20 Uighur asylum seekers to China. On their return, China sentenced 17 of the Uighurs to lengthy sentences in kangaroo courts and rewarded Cambodia with $850 million worth of trade deals — a story that lampoons Morrison’s claim that Australia’s asylum seekers will “now have the opportunity and support to re-establish their lives free from persecution.”

According the U.N., there are only 68 refugees residing in Cambodia. But the number fails to take into account the country’s 750,000 ethnic Vietnamese who, despite being born in the country, are considered illegal immigrants. Deprived of citizenship and voting rights, shut out of normal jobs, housing and schools, they are regularly subjected to public lynchings and scapegoating by political candidates trying to whip up nationalistic furor during elections.

Life for regular Cambodian citizens is not much better. While cutting my teeth as a cadet journalist in Phnom Penh a decade ago, I witnessed almost daily incidents of violence perpetrated by security forces who exhibited pathological contempt for the working poor. And while Cambodia’s economy has improved significantly over the years, with gross national income per capita rising from $400 per annum in 2004 to $950 in 2014, the culture of impunity inherited from the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime remains wholly intact.

In its 2014 World Report, Human Rights Watch accused Cambodia of repeatedly using “excessive force to suppress” protests following last year’s general election. In January, when tens of thousands of underpaid garment workers marched in Phnom Penh to demand a living wage, police opened fire with machine guns, killing four people and wounding dozens more. As recently as Friday, Cambodian protesters attempting to protest the refugee deal in front of the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh were met by riot police who knocked at least one woman unconscious, as this video appears to show.

“Cambodia is not a place to resettle refugees, because the local people in this country cannot lead decent lives,” Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy told the Cambodia Daily. “They are deprived of fundamental rights and living conditions, so how could we accommodate people from other parts of the world?”

Adds U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres: “It’s crucial that countries do not shift their refugee responsibilities elsewhere. International responsibility sharing is the basis on which the whole global refugee system works. I hope that the Australian government will reconsider its approach.”

If Australia’s last attempt to outsource its asylum-seeker problem to an aid-dependent neighbor is anything to go by, Guterres may get his way. Before he was voted out of office last year, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stitched together a deal with Papua New Guinea (PNG) — an impoverished state where the maltreatment of refugees (in this case West Papuan), police brutality and corruption rival those in Cambodia — to resettle 1,000-odd male asylum seekers currently held in an Australian-run detention center on PNG’s Manus Island.

At the time, then Shadow Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison decried Rudd for “not being upfront,” ignoring the practical difficulties of resettling refugees in PNG and for signing over $400 million in taxpayers’ funds in return “for a blank sheet of paper.”

In the two years that have passed, not a single Australian asylum seeker has been resettled there. The reasons for the failure were manifold, but, as Morrison eruditely opined, PNG was unable to provide anything resembling a durable and secure solution for refugees. The country also lacks a basic legal framework to determine the refugee status of asylum seekers.

The only place where Australia’s Regional Resettlement Arrangement has ever been put into action is Nauru. There, 51 Shi‘ite men from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, recognized by Australia as genuine refugees, are living outside the island’s detention center in a community tellingly known as Fly Camp.

“We are living in a camp in the jungle. This is where they resettled us. This is no place to live. If we are refugees why are we not living in community? We have no neighbors here. Our neighbors, our relatives are mosquitoes and flies and dogs,” a refugee who could not be named for legal reasons told Suvendrini Perera, a professor in cultural analysis at Curtin University.

Said another: “Scott Morrison, he wants to sell us, sometimes to one country, sometimes to another country. But no one is ready to [welcome] us.”

And while Cambodia appears willing to break the status quo, it will do so on the caveat that Australia’s asylum seekers migrate on their own volition. And that’s an unlikely possibility, given that some of those in Nauru have said they would rather die than go to Cambodia — literally. After watching a video where Morrison announced the deal with Cambodia, a 15-year-old asylum seeker drank a bottle of washing liquid. She was one of half a dozen inmates who recently attempted suicide in the offshore detention center and was flown to Australian with her mother for emergency medical treatment.

Seen in this context, the Cambodian resettlement plan, like the PNG resettlement plan before it, is destined to fail and unlikely to help a single asylum seeker find refuge in a safe and productive environment. But here’s what it will do.

First, it will fuel corruption in Cambodia by providing a pool of tens of millions of pilferable dollars.

Second, it will, like the detention centers themselves, provide another cruel and calculated deterrent for other asylum seekers considering riding a leaky boat from Indonesia to Australia, by creating conditions that are just as bad, if not worse, than those they fled from.

And third, it will hamstring Australia’s ability to win international support for the critical foreign policy issues it is championing, like stopping the Japanese from resuming whaling in Antarctica, the war against ISIS and seeking justice for victims of the Malaysia Airline’s MH17 tragedy, 36 of whom were Australian residents.

“Only last month, [Australian] Prime Minister Tony Abbott told off Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Crimea. He told Putin, ‘You shouldn’t do something simply because you can,’” says Cambodian-born Australian lawmaker Hong Lim. “But now Australia is paying Cambodia to take part in this ridiculous, immoral plan just because they know they can get away with it. They are bestowing legitimacy to members of a regime who will just take their money and run.”

TIME Australia

Australian Plan to Resettle Refugees in Impoverished Cambodia Sparks Concern

Australia Edges Closer To Cambodia Refugee Transfer Deal
Omar Havana—Getty Images A lotus-flower seller stands underneath the Australian flag along the riverside in Phnom Penh on Aug. 13, 2014. After months of negotiations Australia and Cambodia look set to agree on a deal that will see 1,000 refugees transferred from Australia to Cambodia

Poor and repressive, Cambodia is better known for generating refugees than accepting them, but under a pact with Canberra that will soon change

Australia is to ink a deal on Friday to resettle refugees in Cambodia, despite the Southeast Asian nation’s poverty and appalling rights record.

The forthcoming pact comes just months after Canberra scolded Cambodia at the U.N. for a litany of human-rights abuses including the killing of peaceful protesters, the crushing of political opposition and use of extrajudicial detentions.

The controversial arrangement — thought to be for the initial permanent resettlement of 1,000 people, although there is apparently no upper cap — will be signed in Phnom Penh between Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng.

“We are world renowned for what we do on refugee resettlement so, who better is placed than Australia to work with a country such as Cambodia to help them develop that capability to do the job as well,” Morrison told Australia’s National Press Club earlier this month.

There are unconfirmed reports that Australia will pay the Cambodian government $40 million to seal the deal; requests to Canberra from TIME for clarification went unanswered.

The UNHCR has raised “strong concerns” as the plan “goes against the whole idea of the international asylum system,” says Bangkok-based spokeswoman Vivian Tan. “We have asked both sides to reconsider, but it looks like it is going ahead.”

Australia’s new Conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott was elected partly on the back of promises to stem the flood of asylum seekers arriving by boat on his nation’s shores.

Fetid and overcrowded immigration detention centers in Papua New Guinea, and the nearby island nation of Nauru, established by the preceding Labour government, are used to house new arrivals.

Of the 1,233 asylum seekers currently detained in Nauru, 250 status determinations have been carried out, leading to 206 declarations of genuine refugee status, according to Human Rights Watch.

“In Nauru, they were identified as refugees and not just irregular migrants trying to find work,” says Tan. “These are people with a demonstrated need for international protection.”

Authoritarian Cambodia is listed as “not free” by advocacy group Freedom House, and, after decades of poverty owing to civil war, genocide and Vietnamese occupation, is better known for generating refugees than accepting them.

Even today, a sizable proportion of Cambodia’s 15 million population is driven to neighboring countries like Thailand in search of work.

According to Ou Virak, president of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights, “Everybody knows we are not well equipped to accept refugees,” pointing to the fact that “no refugees themselves are coming to Cambodia.”

There is an unavoidable catch-22, he adds, as not providing refugees with basic support would be a “gross violation” of their rights, but fulfilling their needs will enrage impoverished Khmers, many of whom struggle to survive. Already, violent attacks against Cambodia’s Vietnamese community, measuring around 5% of the total population, are relatively common.

“They will be in a state of limbo for many years, if they can integrate at all,” says Ou Virak, adding that there are huge questions over how long Canberra will keep providing financial assistance. “Giving food to refugees and sustaining their calorie needs is not enough.”

TIME Thailand

A British Labor Activist’s Trial in Thailand Puts Free Speech in the Spotlight

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Christophe Archambault—AFP/Getty Images British migrant rights' activist Andy Hall answers reporters' questions as he arrives for a hearing at a court in Bangkok on Sept. 2, 2014.

For making allegations of brutal conditions in the Thai pineapple industry, Andy Hall faces prison and a fine of up to $10 million

A British labor activist began his fight against defamation charges in a Bangkok court Tuesday, after a report he co-authored made serious allegations regarding abuses in Thailand’s food production industry.

Andy Hall, 33, faces both civil and criminal lawsuits after he alleged that practices including forced labor, the exploitation of children, the paying of unfair wages and up to 10 hours forced overtime daily were rife at factories belonging to Thai fruit firm Natural Fruit.

Defamation is a criminal offense in Thailand and Hall could receive up to a year in prison if convicted, as well as be liable for up to $10 million damages through civil action. Separate charges under Thailand’s much-criticized Computer Crimes Act could carry an additional seven years in jail.

“My work has always been in the public interest and I’ve fought for a long time for migrant workers,” he told TIME before his court appearance, adding that he is “incredibly confident” of acquittal. “I think it would be very difficult for this company to prove that I have any bad intentions towards them.”

Thailand is the world’s largest producer of pineapples and Natural Fruit the country’s largest producer of canned pineapples. The industry heavily relies upon migrant labor from impoverished neighbors such as Burma, Cambodia and Laos.

Natural Fruit is a big supplier to the European beverages market, and leading food companies have leaped to Hall’s defense, urging the company to drop its legal action, even threatening a boycott if their demands are not met. A petition with 300,000 signatures has also been filed.

“Migrant workers are silent and cannot speak out — often if they do they are killed,” adds Hall. “If I can’t speak out then who will combat trafficking and fight exploitation? Nobody would dare.”

Hall’s investigations were documented in the 2013 report, Cheap Has a High Price. It was only published in Finnish, by the advocacy group Finnwatch, but the defamation charges arose from a subsequent interview Hall gave to Al-Jazeera in Rangoon.

Speaking to the Democratic Voice of Burma in May, Natural Fruit’s lawyer Somsak Torugsa said “under Thai law, any charge of defamation that is made against Thai citizens or Thai companies can be tried in a Thai court of law.”

Natural Fruit’s owner, Virat Piyapornpaiboon, has vehemently denied the allegations several times and said he was saddened by them. “The report caused damage to me and my company. Any accusations were not true,” he told AFP.

Should Hall be convicted, Benjamin Zawacki, a human rights visiting fellow at Harvard Law School, fears a “chilling effect” for similarly outspoken activists who take on big business.

Criminal defamation, he says, “is a ready-made tool for use against critical, unpopular, oppositional speech — the very thing human rights defenders are known for and states are known not to welcome.”

Ominously, several other criminal defamation cases are currently targeting those who expose corruption and criminality in Thailand. On May 20, the Thai Army lodged a similar case against a respected Thai human rights activist for “damaging the reputation” of soldiers in the nation’s restive south, after she requested an investigation into an allegation of physical assault.

On Monday, two people were arrested for distributing leaflets demanding murder charges are reinstated against former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. They too have since been charged with criminal defamation. In addition, two editors of the Phuketwan newspaper are possibly facing seven years’ imprisonment for printing an extract from a Pulitzer Prize-winning Reuters report that alleged complicity by the Thai Navy in the trafficking of Rohingya Muslims. Reuters faces no such charges.

“They choose their targets,” says Hall, who has also received messages of support and concern from U.N. representatives, the E.U. and various human rights groups. “It’s a bad law and it’s a bad system and it’s really being used to silence those doing benefit to society.”

Zawacki notes that Thailand’s military government has “dropped, expedited or otherwise acted on many other controversial cases,” but the cases against both Hall and Phuketwan are moving forward. This, he says, “only emphasizes this point: political dissent will not be tolerated.”

TIME Thailand

Thousands of Refugee Children Are Suffering in Thai Detention

THAILAND-CHINA-TURKEY-REFUGEE
Tuwaedaniya Meringing—AFP/Getty Images Children, part of a group of asylum seekers, sit in a truck as Thai immigration officials escort them to a court in Songkhla, southern Thailand, on March 15, 2014

A prominent watchdog accuses Bangkok of serious rights failings

Significant trauma is being experienced by thousands of refugee children being held in squalid detention centers in Thailand, claims a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The 67-page document, Two Years With No Moon: Immigration Detention of Children in Thailand, was published Tuesday and accuses Thailand of violating children’s rights, impairing their health and imperiling their development.

“Migrant children detained in Thailand are suffering needlessly in filthy, overcrowded cells without adequate nutrition, education or exercise space,” says report author Alice Farmer, children’s-rights researcher at the New York City–based advocacy group. “Detention lockup is no place for migrant children.”

Because there is a lack of legal and other mechanisms by which they can be released, many of the children are detained indefinitely, sometimes for years.

There are approximately 375,000 migrant children in Thailand, say experts, the largest number from Burma, officially known as Myanmar, where thousands have fled the world’s longest running civil war as well as recent pogroms against the Rohingya Muslim minority. Other young refugees hail from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Syria and elsewhere.

Unfortunately for them, Thailand has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have functioning asylum procedures. If caught, undocumented aliens run the risk of being put in immigration detention, often in harsh conditions.

HRW researchers say that they found children were being crammed into cells so crowded that they had to sleep sitting up, and that the children were being housed with unrelated adults, risking sexual and physical abuse.

“I interviewed children who were terrified of some of the people they met in detention,” Farmer tells TIME. She claimed that that the conditions violated “the U.N. minimum standards for detention centers.”

“The worst part was that you were trapped and stuck,” says Cindy Y., a refugee detained between the ages of 9 and 12, told HRW. “I would look outside and see people walking around the neighborhood, and I would hope that would be me.” She was one of 41 children interviewed for the HRW report.

Thailand has denied that it is failing refugee children in a seven-page written response to the HRW. “Detention of some small number of migrant children in Thailand is not a result of the government’s policies but rather the preference of their migrant parents themselves (family unity) and the logistical difficulties,” it said.

“The Thai government is trying its best to address and accommodate the needs of migrant children, bearing in mind the humanitarian consideration and fundamental human rights. In addition, it is worth to mention [sic] the Thai officers who work tirelessly amidst all constraints to help sheltering these migrants. Their work deserves understanding as well as recognition.”

The only choice for the refugees is to return to their country of origin — a prospect many cannot countenance for fear of violence, persecution, torture or death — or else wait in the slim hope that they will be accepted for resettlement in a third country. It is a soul-destroying limbo.

“These kids have nowhere to go,” says Farmer, “and ultimately stay in detention indefinitely with no understanding of what will happen to them down the line. It puts a very big burden on the shoulders of some very small people.”

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