Southeast Asian Refugees

Cambodian Refugees

CERI primarily serves Cambodian survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide who resettled in the US in the 1980s.

In 1975, a Communist regime called the Khmer Rouge swept through the country and seized its government.

The Khmer Rouge then imposed what became popularly known as the "killing fields," in which unspeakable brutality was carried out by the insurgents and their supporters against the Cambodian population. Their purpose was the restructuring of Cambodian society, and the destruction of all the features that characterized Khmer life and culture prior to their ascendancy. Through the most drastic of measures, the Khmer Rouge intended to create a supremely egalitarian agrarian society patterned after the most extreme strains of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. In the process, through starvation, disease, and murder, they killed 1.7 million Cambodians — or approximately one-eighth of the total population — between 1975 and 1979. So pervasive was their rule during those years that few Cambodians were able to escape.

In 1978 and 1979, after a series of minor conflicts and skirmishes, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and quickly captured the capital city of Phnom Penh, forcing the Khmer Rouge into the hinterlands, where they continued to wage guerrilla warfare for several years. In the midst of the general confusion, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians moved westward toward the Thai border and into Thailand. In 1979, an international response led to the opening of several refugee camps within Thailand for some 160,000 refugees; another 350,000 lived in Thailand outside of the camps, and some 100,000 fled to Vietnam, where the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) provided them with assistance. Between 1978 and 1993, Cambodian refugees from the UNHCR camps were admitted to the US, Australia, France, Canada, and several other countries. The US admissions program for Cambodians largely concluded in 1985, and only small numbers have entered the country since then.


Client’s Story

Keo’s Story

Keo is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. Her husband ‎was dragged out of their hut and murdered in front of her eyes. ‎Afterwards, his body was hung with a sign hanging behind his back, which ‎said “War Slave”.‎

Keno fled to Thailand in 1979. After 5 years, she was sent to the Philippines ‎where she along with refugees from other parts of the world studied English ‎prior to coming to the U.S. on asylum visas. It was here that she met her ‎second husband, a Vietnamese man with a history of torture during the 11 ‎years of his political imprisonment. ‎

Saravuth’s Flight

A loud, sharp sound cracked like a whip through the air. The boy Saravuth, who had bent over to pick up a basket, thought it sounded like someone striking flint and steel to start a fire. He looked up to see what had caused the noise, but he suddenly felt dizzy, and the landscape spun around him. Reaching up to steady his head with his hand, Saravuth was surprised to feel blood on his forehead. Then he realized what the sound had been — not flint striking steel, but an axe striking his head so hard that it had cracked his skull. There was no pain yet — just the shock and the reeling.