Introduction / History The Cambodian Diaspora is made up of those who left Cambodia starting in April 1975, when the government fell to the Khmer Rouge. Khmer began to flee the Killing Fields to find safety in refugee camps along the Thai border. This continued through the 1980s as the Vietnamese army invaded and occupied Cambodia. These displaced people sought acceptance as refugees in various countries. The United States, Australia, France and other countries became their new homes.
What are their lives like? Cambodians have had difficulty adapting to their new countries. The suffering they experienced under the Khmer Rouge caused many to experience post traumatic stress syndrome. Also, most Cambodian refugees had a low level of education and were farmers. Many were settled in urban areas where they could not use their agricultural experience. As a result, many overseas Cambodians live in poverty. In the United States, Cambodians are near the bottom in education and per capita income among all immigrant groups. Even among second generation Cambodians, many drop out of high school and few attend college, therefore, these problems are passed on from one generation to the next.
What are their beliefs? Khmer in the West have similar beliefs to those in Cambodia. They practice Theravada Buddhism mixed with animism and ancestor worship. When Cambodians arrived in the Thai refugee camps, many heard the Gospel and a high percentage made professions of faith. This trend continued as they were sponsored by Christian churches in the West. Unfortunately, as they settled into their host countries many fell away. Over time, Buddhist temples were built in those countries which provide a place to practice their Khmer culture and traditional beliefs.
At the same time, Cambodian churches have had a significant influence. In the early 1990s, there were actually more Khmer believers in the West than in Cambodia. When a new Cambodian government was formed, many of these Christians played an important role in bringing the Gospel back to their homeland. Today, the overseas churches continue to send money and people to support the growing Christian movement in Cambodia.
What are their needs? Cambodians in the West need to adapt to their new countries. The second and third generations need better educational opportunities so that their communities can emerge from the poverty which has characterized their overseas experience. Most of all they need a relationship with Jesus Christ.