Cambodians in France

Cambodians in France
Total population
(80,000[1] (2011))
Regions with significant populations
Paris, Lyon[2]
French, Khmer
Theravada Buddhism[3]

Cambodians in France consist of ethnic Khmer people who were born in or immigrated to France. The population as of 2011 was estimated to be about 80,000, making the community one of the largest in the Cambodian diaspora.[1] The Cambodian population in France is the most established outside Southeast Asia, with a presence dating to well before the Vietnam War and subsequent Indochina refugee crisis.


Cambodian immigration to France began in the latter half of the 19th century, when Cambodia became a French protectorate. The first wave of migrants largely consisted of students and workers belonging to the country's elite class, including members of the royal family.[4] During World War I, soldiers and civilians in the French colonial empire were recruited to help with the war effort in Metropolitan France. About 2,000 Cambodians arrived in France during the conflict period.[5]

However, most Cambodians arrived in France as refugees as a result of their country's heavy turmoil during the latter half of the 20th century. Following the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1976, a small number of Cambodians were able to flee their country and arrive in France with the French government's assistance.[6] A much larger influx of refugees arrived in France during the Cambodian–Vietnamese War that resulted in the collapse of the Khmer Rouge and end of the Cambodian Genocide in the 1980s.

Roughly 50,000 Cambodian refugees arrived in France by 1989. France was an ideal destination for Cambodians who were educated or already had family present in the country, while poorer and uneducated refugees tended to immigrate to the United States and Australia. The final wave of refugees arrived in the late 1990s, when the last refugee camps closed.[7] In contrast to the Vietnamese, Laotian and ethnic Chinese populations in France, Cambodian refugees from conflicts in Indochina arrived relatively later compared to their peers, and had a harder time finding government assistance.[2]

Culture and demographics

The Cambodian French population is concentrated in Paris and the surrounding Île-de-France region, as well as in Lyon and the Rhône-Alpes region.[2]

In contrast to Cambodian communities in the United States, Canada and Australia, the Cambodian population in France is on average, more educated, older and has a much higher average income.[8] While the community is still attached to its country of origin in some cultural spheres, Cambodians in France have largely integrated into French society relatively well.[2] Nevertheless, unlike their Indochinese peers from Vietnam and Laos, Cambodians in France have not yet achieved a model minority image; and despite having income and education levels higher than other Cambodian diaspora communities, the average for the community is lower than the national average.[9]

Buddhism plays an important role in the community and is seen as a marker of ethnic identity; in contrast, the ability to speak the Khmer language is less emphasised. Though immigrant parents set up language schools for their children soon after migration, many children discontinued their language studies due to the difficulty of learning Khmer grammar and the Sanskrit-based Khmer alphabet.[3]

Numerically, the Khmer are the dominant group among Cambodians in France, but Cambodians of Chinese descent can also be found among the population; though interethnic marriages between Chinese and Khmers were common in Cambodia and remain so in France, the Chinese they have tended to organise themselves around the varieties they speak and remain somewhat separate from other Cambodians in France.[10] A small number of Cambodians in France consist of the wives and mixed-race children of French colonisers who repatriated to France between 1955 and 1965; regardless of their ethnicity, many of those used Khmer rather than French as their home language.[11]

Notable people


  1. 1 2 Cambodge, Chambre de Commerce Franco-Cambogiene (in French)
  2. 1 2 3 4 Reception of Cambodian refugees in France Wijers, G.D.M., January 2011
  3. 1 2 Simon-Barouh, Ida (2004), "Ethnicity and Diaspora: The Case of the Cambodians", in Leṿi, Andreh; Weingrod, Alex, Homelands and Diasporas: Holy Lands and Other Places, Stanford University Press, pp. 247–269, ISBN 0804750793
  4. Pierre Montagnon, La France coloniale, tome 1, Pygmalion-Gérard Watelet, 1988
  5. La Diaspora Vietnamienne en France un cas particulier (in French)
  6. Gellately, Robert; Kiernan, Ben (2003). The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective. Cambridge University Press.
  7. Le rôle de la diaspora dans la justice transitionnelle : L'exemple du Cambodge Mey, Elyda, International Center for Transparent Justice, July 2007 (in French)
  8. D'Avanzo, Carolyn E.; Barab, Sasha A. (June 2000), "Drinking during pregnancy: Practices of Cambodian refugees in France and the United States", Health Care for Women International, Routledge, 21 (4): 319–334(16), doi:10.1080/073993300245177
  9. Quand les Khmers de France ne font plus rêver le Cambodge (in French)
  10. Christiansen, Flemming (2003), "Southeast Asia to France", Chinatown, Europe: An Exploration of Overseas Chinese Identity in the 1990s, Routledge, pp. 56–59, ISBN 0-7007-1072-8
  11. Simon-Barouh, Ida (2003), "Assimilation and ethnic diversity in France", in Juteau, D.; Hartzig, C., The Social Construction of Diversity: Recasting the Social Narrative of Industrial Nations, New York/Oxford: Berghan Books, pp. 15–39, ISBN 1571813756

Further reading

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