Cambodian Immigration

06 February, 2009

Kenneth Tee, an immigrant from Cambodia, 1988.
Kenneth Tee, an immigrant from Cambodia, 1988.
Image: Emmanuel Santos
Source: La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria

Question: I have a project for school on immigration to Australia. We had to choose a country that people came from. I chose Cambodia. Can you help me get started on my project?

Answer: There was very little Cambodian immigration to Australia until the 1950s when a small number of students from Cambodia arrived under the Colombo Plan. The Colombo Plan was established in 1950 and encouraged economic and social cooperation between member countries in the Asia-Pacific region. It included a scheme under which students from developing countries could study in Australia.

Around 40,000 students from the Asia-Pacific region studied in Australia over a period of 35 years. Individuals were required to leave Australia when they had completed their studies, but some were permitted to remain under special circumstances such as marriage to an Australian citizen, sponsorship by an Australian employer or hardship in their home country.

By 1976 the Cambodia-born population in Victoria was still only 234. Under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia large numbers of Cambodians fled their homeland, and many came to Victoria. By 1981 the Cambodia-born population of Victoria had reached 1,478. In another five years it tripled again to reach 4,889. Most settlers were young: in 1986, 87% of the Cambodian-born population in Australia was under 40.

Migration to Victoria from Cambodia slowed in the 1980s and 90s. By this time, political conditions in Cambodia had stabilised and most Cambodians were migrating to Victoria under the Family Reunion Program. By 2001 8,989 Victorians were Cambodia-born.

Today, many Cambodian immigrants live in Springvale and Greater Dandenong. The community has developed strong cultural and social support networks including its own Buddhist temple in Springvale.

In September 2008 a festival was held at the Immigration Museum that celebrated Cambodian culture and its impact on Victoria. In response to this festival, the Immigration Discovery Centre created a guide to resources about this community; this guide can be accessed at the centre seven days a week. A good starting-point for your project? Good luck!

Comments (31)

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Cait 5 August, 2013 16:58
Was there a specific time when the number of Cambodian immigrants to Australia escalated suddenly?
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Discovery Centre 6 August, 2013 13:17
Hi Cait, check out the Origins page about Cambodian immigration for further information.
Girll 19 June, 2013 20:25
When did Cambodian people first start coming to Australia
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bec 20 October, 2011 10:52
i am doing a project for school and i need to know how many students came through the columbo plan (cambodian). do you know how many?
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Discovery Centre 25 September, 2011 11:35
Hi Peggie, the 2011 Census just completed will provide the latest population figures once the data has been analysed, but until then the most current information available is from the 2006 Census.  The Department of Immigration and Citizenship website provides population figures and much more, you can search the data here
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Bianca 3 August, 2011 11:37
What were the push and pull factors for Cambodians immigrating to Australia other than Pol Pot?
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Chloe.E 18 June, 2011 20:41
how have Cambodian immigrants affected Australia as a nation-culturally? religiously? economically? politically/academically?
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Mia 6 June, 2011 17:39
why did cambodians immigrate to Australia????????
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Brittany 6 June, 2011 12:38
What is the average life span of a cambodian due to disease,poverty and starvation
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Alana 6 June, 2011 12:36
How is Cambodians food/culture/housing/life style different from ours?
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Mimi 6 June, 2011 12:35
How much has the population of Cambodian's Immigrants grown from 1971-2011?
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Jess 6 June, 2011 12:32
What kind of tourters did the Khmer Rouge use on people and why?
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Emily 6 June, 2011 12:29
What made Cambodians come to Australia why not other countys?
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Sophia 6 June, 2011 12:26
What would change in our county if Cambodians didnt come here?
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Erin 6 June, 2011 12:15
what did the Khmer Rouge want in Cambodia?
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Discovery Centre 4 June, 2011 15:12

Hi Summer & Chloe, it depends what you mean by how long and how far really. As explained above, some Cambodians came by boat but most flew here. It's about 7000km from Cambodia to Melbourne. To fly it takes about 9 hours. Total travel time really would have been variable as many of the Cambodians were refugees and spent different amounts of time in refugee camps prior to their journey to Australia.

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Chloe 31 May, 2011 11:59
How far do the Cambodian immigrants have to travel to arrive in Australia?
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Summer 30 May, 2011 15:19
hi, is there a good website that can tell me how long or far on average that the Cambodian immigrants had to travel to arrive in Australia?
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Discovery Centre 12 April, 2011 16:47

Hi Dany, for information about this group, please contact them: Khmer Angkor Dance Group of Vic, 93 Heyington Cres, Noble Park, 03 9774 8887. The Cambodian Festival was a once off celebration. The museum holds several festivals a year with a different community each time.

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Dany Heang 11 April, 2011 17:06
One of the source in the website was Khmer Angkor Dance Group of Victoria..Where can I find more information on Khmer Angkor Dance Group if I want to learn? How come Cambodian Festival were no longer eventuated after year 2008? Can Immigration Museum do that again? Much appreciate Immigration Museum and Discovery Centre staff.
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Discovery Centre 9 April, 2011 14:15
Hi Lyna, you should have a look at the resources under 'External Links' at the right of the article. These will answer your question.
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lyna 7 April, 2011 23:38
Do u know approximately how many Cambodians are there in the whole Australia currently?
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Georgia 18 October, 2010 19:06
yeah it helped a bit but i need an updated one and one for the whole of australia not just the cambodian victorians! :)
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Discovery Centre 9 September, 2010 13:03

Hi Kelly, check out the Journeys website for information: http://museumvictoria.com.au/journeys/index.asp

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kelly 5 September, 2010 18:03
i would like to know in detail what the boats and planes were like. as in what conditions were they traveling in. thanx, kelly
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Discovery Centre 3 September, 2010 14:53
Kassie, there's lots of great information about transport history available in libraries and on the web, covering the period during which Cambodians have been immigrating to Australia. Museum Victoria also has its own Transport Collection that can be explored at our Collections Online website. Hope this helps!
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kassie 3 September, 2010 08:15
what were the planes and boats like that they travelled on?
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Discovery Centre 23 August, 2010 12:56

Hopefully the comment above and the material in this article will give you a start with your research. Make sure you check out the links, too!

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l 22 August, 2010 17:39
hi i want know how cambodians came here and why they came to australia for my project
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Discovery Centre 21 August, 2010 12:05

Hi Gracie. The earliest Cambodians in Australia probably came by ship as this was the most common way that all immigrants journeyed to Australia because air travel was very expensive up until the 1970s. The later Cambodian immigrants, including those who were asylum seekers, in the 1970s to 1990s came by both plane and boat. You can find a little more detail in the links at right.

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G 18 August, 2010 17:40
Hi, I too am doing a school project and need to know how did Cambodian Immigrant's come to Australia?
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