Coming and Going in Cambodia
Living in a constant state of uncertainty is how my Mekong
River tour guide explained his daily life. After the Khmer Rouge took
over the country and killed nearly 1/3 of the Cambodian population,
many people have not recovered and probably never will. They have not
been able to regain trust in their unstable government and essentially
live in fear everyday. After hearing this I thought I would see no
signs of migrations in Cambodia. Who would want to subject themselves
to this lifestyle?
By Julia Hursh
It was minutes later that we approached a floating fishing village on
the river. I asked who lived in those houses and if they were poor. The
guide went on to tell me that the villages were actually Vietnamese.
They were not poor; they were actually, by Cambodian standards,
considered wealthy. I then noticed a television on inside one of the
houses. I asked why they would want to live there and he said that as
the Khmer Rouge began to loose power when the Vietnamese came into help
Cambodia in 1979, many people migrated over the borders. He said there
reason for the migration was to avoid the communist rule that had taken
over Vietnam after the end of the war. He said there were about 1
million Vietnamese in Cambodia, many whom do not have visas.
This story made me realize that these Vietnamese were not migrants but
refugees. The “Worldwide Refugee Information” packet by the U.S.
Committee for Refugees describes a refugee as “a person with a
well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, and
nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political
opinion who is outside the country of his or her nationality and is
unable or unwilling to return.” Because these Vietnamese were escaping
communist rule in the late 1970’s and were unwilling to go back, they
I am very interested in Cambodia’s past so I purchased a book titled
“Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields” compiled by Dith Pran. The book
is full of short stories written by children whose lives were affected
by the Khmer Rouge. The stories are heart wrenching but I was amazed to
find that almost all of the people in the book now live in the United
States. I assume they were all asylum seekers and were granted
permanent status in the U.S. because they have established lives there.
It is interesting to travel to a country that has both people coming
into the country to escape problems of their own country like the
Vietnamese, but to have more people trying to escape the problems of
their own country such as the Cambodians.