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 Cambodia's Recent Migration History

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 demographics.

    In Castles and Miller’s book titled, The Age of Migration, there is a small chapter on new migration movements in the 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.

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