The Story of Kao Vannarin

In 1975, Cambodia came under the power of the Khmer Rouge party, led by the infamous Pol Pot. It is here that the story of a young Kao Vannarin’s escape from Cambodia begins.

Once the Khmer Rouge took power, the mass killings known as the Cambodian Genocide began. To escape the death and atrocities befalling his country, Kao (only a young boy at the time) decided to flee whilst he still could.

His long journey was mired with difficulty. Leaving the city, Kao used his wits in the Cambodian fields to find his food and shelter. Unfortunately, he was caught, arrested, and faced execution. Only three days before his execution, his parents were able to save him. From there, Kao faced only more suffering.

Determined to escape the Khmer Rouge, Kao was forced to escape yet another prison, and then joined two other boys in their own bid for safety and refuge. There was never a safe day for Kao. As a young boy hunted by soldiers, he was forced to experience things that few of us reading this blog will ever know, and that no one should have to experience at all.


Kao Vannarin, present day

At one point during his escape, Kao and his companions were so hungry that they had to steal food from a guard. Kao had to hold an axe over the sleeping guard whilst his friends stole the food. If the guard awoke, Kao would have had to kill him to save himself. Luckily, he did not wake.

Kao managed to escape persecution from the Khmer Rouge, and found refuge in France. Now 40 years old, Kao has returned to Cambodia with his family, and lives peacefully to this day.

Sadly, Kao’s story of struggle is an oft repeated one wherever civil conflict arises, be it in places like Cambodia in 1975, or Syria today. Sadder still, stories of success like Kao’s are often outweighed by the stories that end in death or a life without hope for a better future.



Refugees International Japan was created in response to the very tragedy that caused Kao Vannarin to leave his country. While new conflicts create even more people without homes or hope, RIJ continues to empower refugees with the power to rebuild their lives, and create better stories for themselves.


William Mawhinney

If you want to help RIJ’s work, visit our website and see how you can empower a refugee to rebuild her own life.


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