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Making a Home in an Unfamiliar Homeland

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Making a Home in an Unfamiliar Homeland

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Making a Home in an Unfamiliar Homeland

Making a Home in an Unfamiliar Homeland

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Two Families

Hear more about Roeun Om's story from his mother and brother, and then listen to him talk about his second family — his co-workers.

Roeun Om's mother and brother talk about his deportation.

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Roeun Om talks about a karaoke outing with his co-workers, who he describes as a "second family."

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Roeun Om, also known as "Lucky," holds his newborn son. Courtesy Scott Elliott hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy Scott Elliott

Roeun Om, also known as "Lucky," holds his newborn son.

Courtesy Scott Elliott

In the late 1970s, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians fled their country as Khmer Rouge leaders turned it into a killing field.

Those refugees included Roeun Om's family.

"During the war, my mom, she walked on foot with me still in her stomach ... ducking and dodging bullets, you know, falling in ditches, trying not to get caught by the Khmer Rouge," he says.

Om — also known as "Lucky" — was born in a refugee camp and then moved with his family to Virginia. But he, like many other Cambodians, never became a U.S. citizen. And, because of a 1996 law, he could be deported if he committed a crime.

He says when he was 11, he "got gang-related" to escape being home with his alcoholic father, and he went to prison when he was 17. Then, he was deported to Cambodia — his native land, but a land he had never even seen. He knew almost no one there.

But Om and other deportees have learned to look out for each other, and they are now helping Cambodian drug users through a nongovernmental organization called Korsang. He has also welcomed a baby son.

For one month, he carried a tape recorder, documenting his new life. He talks about his fears, his work and his new family.

Produced by Matt Ozug on an International Reporting Project Fellowship.

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