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12-Year-Old Refugee Reunited with Brothers, Uncle

October 29, 1986 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A 12-year-old Cambodian boy who spent most of his life in a refugee camp was reunited with his family Wednesday after a relative visiting Thailand recognized him through a telltale hand deformity.

Phidel Hun, whose right thumb and little finger are fused together, was picked up and swung around by his uncle and two teen-age brothers as he emerged from a Customs check at Los Angeles International Airport.

″I want to introduce him to hamburgers, rock music, literature and computer software 3/8″ said his brother, Delux Hun, 15.


Asked if there was a gift waiting at home, Delux said: ″Just love.″

Phidel, wearing a white T-shirt, blue jeans and white tennis shoes, broke into a wide grin as he was embraced by a half-dozen relatives.

First on the agenda for Phidel was a reunion at the family home in Bellflower. Trips to Disneyland and a shopping mall were high on the list of priorities for this week.

The boy was recognized by a relative searching for another missing relative two years ago in the Khao I Dang refugee camp in southeastern Thailand, just across the border from the Cambodian town of Poipet.

The relative remembered the hand deformity from having seen the boy years earlier. The boy burned his hand as an infant when he grabbed a red-hot poker.

Phidel’s father, Leng Khim Hun, and mother Hong Gau, are presumed dead in the bloody aftermath of the Cambodian civil war, and nobody is sure how Phidel got to the camp.

He arrived when he was about 4 or 5 years old, Patrick Taylor, a public relations consultant to the International Rescue Committee in New York City.

″He has very few memories of growing up because he was literally raised in refugee camps,″ said Taylor. The child had no souvenirs of home or parents, Taylor said, but ″he did remember he had brothers.″

″It was terrible there (in the camp),″ said his uncle Hanyou Gau, who has been caring for his brothers, Delux and Pich, 13. ″He was living in a hut.″

Gau, an employee of Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, went to the camp last March and was granted a two-hour visit with the boy at the camp gate.

″I want to come with you,″ the boy told Gau during that visit.

During Wednesday’s 10-minute, tearful reunion under the glare of television lights, the boy stared at the ground and fidgeted. Several times, his grandmother pushed his nose up so he would look into the cameras.

″I am happy. I will go to school and study,″ Phidel, who speaks no English, said as his uncle translated. ″I want to meet my family.″

″His biggest obstacles will be English and his hand,″ Gau said. ″The biggest thing right now is to hope a plastic surgeon will help us.″

Taylor said the boy had been staying with another uncle, also now presumed dead, when the family was sucked into the chaos surrounding the end of the Cambodian civil war in 1975.

Phidel was found two years ago, and with the assistance of Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., and the IRC, Phidel was brought to the United States under special ″humanitarian parole,″ IRC deputy director Al Kastner said from New York.

Special dispensation was granted because of his medical problem and because his brothers already live here, said Taylor.

More than 260,000 Cambodian refugees and displaced persons live in Thai camps, 23,000 of them at the Khao I Dang camp, where about 40 percent are children, said IRC Deputy Director Roy Williams.

Many of them have no living relatives in the wake of the Cambodian civil war and the so-called ″killing fields″ of the communist Khmer Rouge, who moved much of the civilian population into ″inhospitable areas where they were forced to work in fields, suffering malnutrition and arbitrary punishment,″ Kastner said.

″There were massive killings,″ he said. ″The number of people who were killed or died ranged from 1 million to 2 or 3 million through the genocide of (former dictator) Pol Pot.″

Cambodia is now ruled by Vietnam, which invaded in 1979, and the killing has subsided, he said.