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Cambodian Refugee Admissions to the United States

The table below shows the number of Cambodian refugees admitted to the US each year between 1975 and 1998. Statistics are based on the fiscal year rather than the calender year. The figures below include only Cambodians admitted as refugees.

Refugees are granted political asylum on the basis of a "well-founded fear of persecution," usually on the basis of race, religion, or political beliefs. The statistics in the table do not include persons coming to the US through normal means of migration, such as through family reunification programs, visa lotteries, marriage, et cetera.

Bear in mind that these statistics represent refugee admissions to the US, and not the number of persons fleeing Cambodia. The relatively small number of refugees admitted from 1976 through 1978 gives an indication of the difficulty of escaping Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. The exodus out of Cambodia peaked in 1979-80, immediately after the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge. For the next thirteen years, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians languished in UN-administered camps in Thailand. Most were considered "economic migrants" rather than refugees, and relatively few were eligible for resettlement in other countries. In 1993, the remaining camps were closed and last of some 370,000 persons were repatriated.

In the wake of Hun Sen's 1997 coup, refugees again streamed out of Cambodia; at the peak of the exodus some 75,000 Cambodians sought shelter in Thailand. The vast majority of these were repatriated to Cambodia in 1998 and 1999.

An outstanding resource for information on refugees is the US Committee for Refugees. The USCR provides clear and concise information on all aspects of the problems facing displaced persons and refugees around the world. USCR is also an excellent source for background information on the root causes of refugee crises around the world.

A note regarding the figures in the table below: although the table indicates that there were no Cambodians admitted to the U.S. as refugees in 1996 and 1997, a source at the U.S. Committee for Refugees, who provided the statistics, was uncertain whether or not the USCR had continued to track the figures for Cambodians during the relatively stable period prior to the 1997 coup.

Cambodian Refugee Admissions, 1975 - 1998

Year Refugee Admissions Year Refugee Admissions
1975 4,600 1987 1,539
1976 1,100 1988 2,805
1977 300 1989 1,916
1978 1,300 1990 2,166
1979 6,000 1991 38
1980 16,000 1992 141
1981 27,100 1993 22
1982 20,234 1994 6
1983 13,115 1995 1
1984 19,851 1996 0
1985 19,097 1997 0
1986 9,789 1998 108
    TOTAL 147,228

Source: US Committee for Refugees; Refugee Reports, 12/18/87 and 12/31/94

For an in-depth look at the U.S. response to refugees from Cambodia, two books are highly recommended: The Quality of Mercy by William Shawcross (Simon and Schuster, 1984) and Calculated Kindness by Gil Loescher and John A. Scanlan (Free Press, 1986). Both books provide invaluable insight for scholars seriously interested in refugee assistance.

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