by Preston Price
I learned a fair amount of knowledge about Cambodian
history during my brief visit, particularly recent emigration
trends. Many of the students stayed in Vietnam when we stopped in
Ho Chi Minh City, but some of us shortened our visit there to spend
three of our five days in Cambodia. Although I didn’t get to
fully experience Vietnam, I am glad that I made the decision to go to
Cambodia. For having only stayed there for three days, I feel as
if I know a surprising amount of information about Cambodia’s
In Castles and Miller’s book titled, The Age of
Migration, there is a small chapter on new migration movements
Asia-Pacific region. It mentions that one of two of the largest
exoduses since 1945 is a migration movement that took place in the
Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia region. Over three million people
fled from these countries on small boats in the late seventies.
The so called “boat people” desperately attempted to sail long
distances in overcrowded boats risking their lives with the high
possibility of shipwreck or being attacked from pirates.
Half a million eventually returned but two and a half million refugees
found new homes elsewhere. Even though one can assume that the
Vietnam War played a significant role in generating such an enormous
migration, I speculate that many also left Cambodia due to their own
political situation. For instance, in the mid to late seventies
while the Vietnam war was taking place, the Pol Pot regime was
performing ruthless acts of mass genocide on the Cambodian
civilians. One third to one fifth of the entire Cambodian
population was wiped out from their own governments attempt to bring
about ethnic cleansing. Innocent people were tortured and killed
on the spot. The majority of the doctors, teachers, and other
intellectuals were killed in hopes of preventing any sort of uprising.
Paralleled with effects from the Vietnam War nearby, this situation
seems like a
very reasonable cause for such a large exodus to have occurred.
One of the tour guides that I had a chance to speak
with during my stay in Cambodia said that his entire family was
brutally murdered when he was a boy at that time. He then fled
the country for a few years until the political situation
subsided. I happened to vistit the killing fields which is where
the Pol Pot Regime commited their tortorous and genocidal acts. I
would like to believe that it is one of the most surreal and greusome
historical sites that currently exists. In contrast to their
recent history, the Cambodian people appear to be extremely happy
people containing a strong will to live. They are set on
restoring their country, and progress is obviously taking place.
Every civilian that I spoke with said that tourism is the key factor to
future economic growth, and situations seem to be improving
drastically. The period of emigration for sheer survival
was a dour moment in Cambodian history, but the country has rebounded
and is now progressing forward.