The Kingdom of Cambodia (formerly Kampuchea and the Khmer Republic) is a small country in Southeast Asia. The majority of Cambodians (90%) are of Khmer ethnicity. Most Canadian Cambodians originally came to Canada as refugees in the 1980s.
Today a multiparty democracy with a constitutional monarchy, Cambodia has had a turbulent past. The country gained independence from French colonial rule in 1953, but became involved in the Vietnam War in the 1960s, and then suffered under the totalitarian regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge (Communist Party of Kampuchea) in the 1970s. Millions died during this time of oppression and the disastrous communist restructuring of Cambodian society. By 1980, half a million Cambodians had escaped to neighbouring countries, but conflict and unrest in Cambodia lasted for another decade.
Cambodian Immigrants to Canada
Between 1980 and 1992, Canada welcomed more than 18,000 Cambodians from refugee camps in Thailand. These immigrants settled mainly in larger Canadian cities from British Columbia to Québec. Their adjustment was initially difficult, due in part to a scarcity of translators and a lack of knowledge in Canada about Khmer culture. Few of the newcomers could speak English or French, and most had come from rural areas. Québec was already home to a small community of Cambodian business people and students, which made the transition somewhat easier for the new immigrants in that province. Elsewhere in the country, many Cambodians struggled to learn English and found themselves limited to low-paying jobs in factories or agriculture. Today, however, many younger Cambodian Canadians are pursuing higher education and working in professional fields.
Cambodian Canadians Today
Most Khmers follow Theravada Buddhism, often blended with Hinduism and other traditions. Cambodian temples and religious associations in Canada help Cambodians maintain religious and cultural practices. Cambodian Canadians have also formed community and youth organizations to support their members and to preserve Cambodian culture.
Canada and Cambodia have worked together for many years through organizations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Canada also provides assistance to Cambodia through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), with programs that focus on strengthening Cambodian democracy, improving health and safety (especially through the clearing of landmines), reducing poverty and supporting economic development. In 2006, Canada also provided financial support to set up an international tribunal to conduct trials for war criminals of the Khmer Rouge era.