11. Khao-I-Dang

A few weeks later, the Thai government requested UNHCR to build another holding center, one capable of holding 300,000 people. With 4 days of rapid construction Khao-I-Dang Holding Center, opened on November 21, 1979, several kilometers inside of the Thailand, just north of the border town Aranyaprathet. Over a period of several weeks tens of thousands of refugees are bused to Khao-I-Dang from the border. In general these refugees were in better health than the refugees that initially came to Sa Kaeo. Khao-I-Dang was immediately different from Sa Kaeo: it was larger and had better facilities and the refugees that came there were mostly people who had fled the Khmer Rouge.

Buses from the border arrived each day with thousands of refugees; An average of 1,600 refugees arrived each day. Between November 1979 and January 1980 the population of Khao I Dang grew from zero to 140,000 people, making it the second largest Khmer city in the world, after Phnom Penh.

As with Sakaeo, UNHCR was in charge of the camp, ICRC operated the medical facilities, WFP supplied the food and several volunteer agencies (“volags”) provided a variety of other camp services. Each volunteer organization came with a different political agenda and set of management structures, skills, protocols and beliefs about providing humanitarian assistance. Coordination was difficult.