T HAI border camp returnees have received their last free rations from the World
Food Program, with the NGO claiming the scheme as a big success.
returnees were promised rice fish and oil to last for 400 days after their
arrival from the camps as an incentive to return home.
brightly-painted flying garuda and angels of Battambang city's Wat Kan Doeung,
WFP trucks were prepared to cater for 600 former refugees. But, under the glare
of the invited media, only a few turned up to claim their rations.
shows that most of the returnees in this area no longer need handouts," said
Michel Lepechoux, WFP's Battambang coordinator, adding that WFP was now
concentrating on programs which provide needy families with food or cash in
return for civic work.
At the height of the feeding program 116,000
people were being catered for in Battambang province. Some 370,000 people in
total were returned by United Nations High Commission for Refugees from
Thailand, and all received a first-year food commitment from the UN.
Each blue and white ticket in the returnee's WFP coupon book entitled
one person to forty days' rations: 20 kg of rice, 1 kg of oil, 1.2 kg of tinned
fish or prahoc, and .4 kg of sea salt.
Rice merchants and moto drivers
hovered around the wat offering to either buy or transport the rice from the 30
returnee families who turned up.
Lepechoux nodded at one rice buyer and
said: "She threatened to kill me once because I removed her from the
distribution site." The woman laughed when he mentioned it to her.
several of the merchants commerce was brisk as recipients
bought and sold
stocks among themselves, then haggled for the best price with
"Sometimes I sell the tinned fish so I can buy fresh fish,
pork or clothes," said Dol Pali, who had pedaled six km from Phnom Andong Preng.
She said one 140 gram tin of fish would bring $13.
decision to sell food was sometimes a matter of taste. Even though the cans had
"Word Food Program - Not for Sale" printed on the side, "The Japanese tuna was
very popular and sold well to Untac," Lepe-choux said.
The tinned herring
distributed on the last day, however, did not please every
"They've had it in the camps, they've had it here, that's why
they sell it. They're sick and tired of the stuff. Fifteen years of herring..."
said one onlooker shaking his head.
Not all returnees were ready to part
with their food. "I take everything home because I don't have anything to eat,"
said Som Sitha, who took cash rather than the promise of land from the
authorities on his return from Thailand.
With three people in his family,
Sitha netted $125 in settlement funds when he was repatriated in February 1993.
He was unsure how he would support his family now that the feeding program was
"I have no land to grow rice, I don't know what to do. I haven't
really thought about it," he admitted.
Many of the returnees who were
unsure of their future had taken cash upon repatriation, rather than
"We have relatives but they don't provide any help, sometimes they
even ask us for food," added one woman squatting under a tree as she waited for
her name to be called. "We'll have to work on other people's
"I'm very worried about the future," said Sophan, a Site 8
returnee who bought an 8x10 meter plot of land in Phum Som Poh, 12 km from
Battambang, with part of her family's repatriation funds. She had used the
remainder of the $275 the three adults and four children in her family had
received to build a house.
"I used to break gravel to make money but now
the police won't let us because they say security is bad. I don't know what I
will do," she added.
WFP will announce future spot distribution dates in
order to fulfill their commitment to returnees still holding unused coupons for