History of immigration from Cambodia

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Map of Cambodia
Map date: 2013
Few Cambodians came to Australia until the 1950s, when a small number of students from Cambodia arrived under the Colombo Plan. They were only offered temporary residence (with some exceptions, such as those who married Australians). By 1976 the Cambodia-born population in Victoria was still just 234.

From 1975 to 1978, an estimated one million Cambodians died through starvation or execution under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia (then Kampuchea). Large numbers fled their homeland. Many spent years in refugee camps in South-East Asia, waiting for decisions about their future. The Australian Government responded by increasing the quota of Cambodian refugees.

After 1978, the guerrilla war conducted by the ousted Khmer Rouge resulted in increasing Cambodian emigration to Victoria. By 1981, the Cambodia-born population of Victoria was 1,478, and within five years it had tripled again to 4,889. Most settlers were young: 87% of the population was aged under 40 in 1986.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s the number of Cambodians settling in Victoria slowed. With political conditions stabilising, most Cambodians now settled in Victoria under the Family Reunion Program. By 2011, 11,354 Victorians were Cambodia-born.

Today, many Cambodian immigrants live in Greater Dandenong and Casey. Almost one in five workers occupies a professional or managerial role; most others work in production, transport and labouring. 79% are Buddhist, while a small proportion is Christian. The community has developed strong cultural and social support networks, including its own Buddhist temple in Springvale.

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