Last Updated: Monday, 20 November 2017, 16:41 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Cambodia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Cambodia , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 21 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Cambodia hosted 71 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 1999. Of those, 29 were from Vietnam, and the rest from various countries.

Approximately 15,000 Cambodians were refugees at the end of 1999, primarily in Vietnam. More than 36,000 Cambodians repatriated from Thailand. Although 22,000 Cambodians were internally displaced at the end of 1998, none remained so at the end of 1999.

Cambodia is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention but has no domestic law on refugees and asylum seekers. Pending such laws, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conducts refugee status determinations for asylum applicants and provides them with legal and financial assistance. UNHCR reported that, after years of postponing refugee legislation, in 1999 the Cambodian interior ministry renewed the effort to adopt a decree on refugees. The decree was expected to take force in late 2000 or early 2001.

In 1999, for the first time in 30 years, the Khmer Rouge was not a significant political or military threat. For the first time since 1993, there were no camps for Cambodian refugees in Thailand.

Political Developments and Human Rights

In 1999, Cambodia continued the process of political and economic reconstruction begun in 1998, following the elections that brought Hun Sen to legitimate power (having previously seized power through a coup) and led to a new coalition government with his longtime rival, Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

At the beginning of 1999, nearly all top leaders and most rank-and-file members of the Khmer Rouge (a guerrilla group since Vietnam ousted them from power in 1979) surrendered or fled to Thailand, bringing an end to one of the century's most brutal chapters. Longtime Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot had died in his jungle hideout, and two of his former top officials, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, had surrendered. Only Ta Mok ("the Butcher"), who deposed Pol Pot in 1997, remained at large, until his arrest in March 1999. The question of how to address the country's need for justice and reconciliation also remained unanswered.

More than 36,000 Cambodian refugees were still in Thailand as 1999 began. However, the process of repatriation was well underway – for the third time since the major repatriation of 1992-93. Within the first three months of the year, the repatriation was complete.

The Cambodian government finally captured and arrested Ta Mok in March 1999. Despite the earlier Khmer Rouge defections and surrenders, this marked the first time a senior Khmer Rouge leader was arrested for his role in the events of 1975-79, when nearly 2 million people died from forced labor, starvation, disease, and execution. Although a UN report called for an international tribunal to try Ta Mok and other Khmer Rouge leaders, Hun Sen (himself a former Khmer Rouge field commander) supported a single, domestic trial – for Ta Mok only. The government granted amnesty to the other leaders in exchange for laying down arms.

For the remainder of the year, the question of how to bring to justice to those responsible for Khmer Rouge atrocities plagued Cambodia, the UN, and others in the international community. The issue had not been resolved as 1999 closed.

On April 30, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) admitted Cambodia as its 10th member, fulfilling its goal of establishing an organization for all Southeast Asian countries. That same month, the UN Human Rights Commission praised the efforts of Cambodia's new government to promote some basic freedoms but voiced "grave" concerns about continuing violations, including extrajudicial executions, torture, and illegal arrest and detention.


More than 36,000 Cambodians repatriated during 1999. Of those, nearly 25,000 returned with UNHCR assistance, while 11,000 returned spontaneously. UNHCR had no reports of forced returns of Cambodian refugees, although concerns surfaced about the voluntariness of place of destination.

UNHCR provided the returnees with 40 days' worth of food as well as nonfood items, and offered to assist them to resettle anywhere in Cambodia they chose. However, UNHCR became concerned that repatriating refugees were being coerced by remaining Khmer Rouge leaders – known to have infiltrated the camps – to return to their former base at Anlong Veng, despite their wishes to go elsewhere. Anlong Veng, in the north, was a rebel stronghold until Cambodian forces seized control of it in May 1998. Observers said the small group of residual Khmer Rouge rebels wished to re establish themselves at the base and wanted a population to control.

A UNHCR spokesperson said that although some refugees volunteered to go to Anlong Veng, when questioned, the refugees said the choice "was not so voluntary." For that reason, UNHCR briefly slowed the repatriation. A February 1999 investigation yielded mixed results, with the UNHCR concluding that some coercion had likely taken place. At the end of the year, however, UNHCR told the U.S. Committee for Refugees that the returnees had the freedom to choose their final destination and were not coerced to returning to unsafe areas. Most refugees returned either to Anlong Veng or Battambang in northwest Cambodia, but some asked for help in returning to places in the eastern part of the country from which their families fled 20 years ago.

Another concern for the returnees was the continued prevalence of landmines in Cambodia. Ta Mok reportedly ordered thousands of new mines to be laid around Along Veng before fleeing the Cambodian army prior to his capture. British de-mining teams estimated that half a million mines remained throughout the country. In the formerly volatile city of Samlot, more than 50 residents were maimed or killed by landmines between January and March.

On March 24, UNHCR completed its organized repatriation of Cambodians from Thailand. Between October 1997 – when the most recent repatriation began – and March 1999, UNHCR facilitated, directly or indirectly, the return of some 47,000 Cambodians from Thailand. All Cambodian refugee camps were again closed (for the second time since the 1970s), although 300 to 500 Cambodians remained in urban areas of Thailand.

Internal Displacement

Although 22,000 Cambodians were internally displaced at the end of 1998, no Cambodians remained internally displaced at the end of 1999, according to the World Food Program (WFP). During the year, the displaced either returned to their most recent homes or chose to remain in locations where they had relocated, rather than return to their previous home villages or to resettlement sites. WFP continued helping displaced persons reintegrate, particularly in the northwest provinces.

In 1999, WFP's Cambodia office conducted a survey of current and former internally displaced persons living in areas receiving WFP assistance. The survey found that 76 percent of households in Cambodia had been displaced by fighting since 1989 – with many having been displaced two or three times.

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