My twin brother, Robert Ashe, who has died aged 69 of pancreatic cancer just five weeks after diagnosis, spent most of his working life supporting refugees in south-east Asia, including on the Thailand-Cambodia border, where he helped people to flee Cambodia’s murderous Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s.
He also he set up what became known as the Landbridge project, taking food, seeds and agricultural tools into Cambodia in the wake of the Khmer Rouge’s overthrow.
Born in London, one of the seven children of Patrick, a vicar, and Marion (nee Johnston), a nurse, Robert attended Christ’s Hospital school in Horsham, West Sussex, before going on to the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, and beginning a brief career in farming.
In 1973, however, he joined Project Vietnam Orphans, a charity founded by his parents, to work with orphaned and abandoned children in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in Vietnam. It was from there that he became involved in his work on the Thai-Cambodian border which earned him the Thai Red Cross Medal of Merit in 1979, appointment as MBE in 1980 and a three-day spell in prison when he was arrested by suspicious Vietnamese soldiers unaware of his humanitarian work.
Robert’s creation of the Landbridge project gained him the admiration of many – including Martin Griffiths, now UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, who was working with Unicef in Thailand in 1979. “We all relied on Robert, and admired him,” Griffiths recalled. “It was a brilliant idea, but it needed great discipline to make it work – and Robert’s character, quiet and unassuming, was steely enough to do the job.”
While in Thailand Robert met Var Hong, who, after the murder of her husband by the Khmer Rouge, had escaped Cambodia with her two young daughters, Somaly and Panita. Robert and Var married in 1982 and their son, Peter, was born.
Also in 1982 Robert began working for Food for the Hungry International as their field director in Thailand. He was to spend the rest of his working life with UNHCR, where he held senior posts in Sudan, Geneva, The Hague and finally in Indonesia, where he was UNHCR’s regional representative covering Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Timor-Leste. Based in Jakarta, he was well placed to support communities after the disastrous tsunami of 2004.
Robert’s marriage to Var ended in 1991, and in 2002 he married Aam Dachlan, who had two children, Joel and Julia, from a previous marriage. In 2010 they retired to Lombok, Indonesia, where Robert died.
He is survived by Aam, Peter and grandson Dylan. THE GUARDIAN