Civil Peace Service/Special Initiative on displacement: (Re-)integration of former Vietnamese refugees

Project description

Title: Civil Peace Service: Strengthening conflict sensitive reintegration of former Vietnamese refugees and other minorities
Commissioned by: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Cambodia
Overall term: 2014 to 2017

Ziviler Friedensdienst (ZFD). Studierende unterschiedlicher ethnischer Herkunft absolvieren ein Training zu interethnischer Konfliktanalyse und -transformation. © GIZ


In Cambodia, decades of armed conflict resulted in people moving, fleeing and being displaced from their homes on a large scale. The consequences of this violence are still impeding sustainable and socially equitable development today. This is particularly true of the Vietnamese minority population and the Khmer Krom groups that originated from what is now southern Viet Nam, who suffer the negative effects of historically entrenched discrimination.
During the Khmer Rouge period in the 1970s, thousands of Vietnamese were deported from Cambodia, or fell victim to ethnic and political purges. In the 1980s, it is estimated that up to half a million Vietnamese were living in Cambodia, including many former refugees. The authorities, however, did not treat the latter as returnees, but rather immigrants. Today, five per cent of the Cambodian population is estimated to be ethnically Vietnamese. Their statelessness, among other things, has caused them to be the socially weakest population group.
The perceptions and attitudes of many Cambodians are shaped by a purported Vietnamese threat. Stigmatisation has been fed not only by the failure to address and acknowledge past events but also by unresolved territorial conflicts in the border regions between Cambodia and Viet Nam and the growth in Vietnamese investment, which is also leading to conflicts over land. Public discourse in Cambodia surrounding Vietnamese minorities is highly polarised and politicised, and is shaped by nationalistic emotions.


The (re-)integration of the long-term resident Vietnamese minorities, particularly returned refugees, their political participation, and their legal situation are improved. Awareness is raised about this group’s fragile situation. The social cohesion in multi-ethnic communities is increased and the potential for conflict is reduced. The future prospects for ethnic minorities are improved.


The Civil Peace Service (CPS) contributes to identifying the specific causes of the socio-economic exclusion of Vietnamese minorities, promoting cooperation and peaceful conflict transformation, and raising awareness about this group’s fragile legal situation. The CPS integrates civil society actors into its activities and cooperates with local authorities.
Basic research on historical experiences and socio-economic needs like income, health services and access to education is improving the information base on the Vietnamese minorities. The intention is that the results of this research will feed into public discourse and contribute to dismantling prejudices and fears about a purported ‘Vietnamisation’ or exploitation by outsiders.
Dialogue processes as well as informational, educational and awareness-raising activities are promoting networking among the different actors to build their capacity for non-violent conflict resolution.
The affected parties as well as local authorities are made aware of the legal status of the Vietnamese minorities. Over the medium term, this contributes to greater legal certainty for ethnic minorities. In addition, legal counselling for affected parties, radio broadcasts about interethnic relations, theatre workshops, documentaries and films, training exercises and public events build awareness and knowledge.
The project is part of the BMZ Special Initiative entitled ‘Tackling the root causes of displacement, reintegrating refugees’.


The information available on the conditions faced by Vietnamese minorities has improved considerably. Human rights abuses were documented and extensive amounts of data have been collected. This process also led to the successful networking of different communities of ethnic Vietnamese and Khmer Krom with local authorities. Dialogue processes have been well received and are used for getting to know one another and fostering exchange.
A film produced during the project documents the chronology of the migrations and the accompanying experiences of the ethnic minorities. It encourages viewers to question stereotypes. A forum theatre promotes an examination of racism and discrimination and questions historical narratives as interpretative, emotional paradigms. The film was produced with young multipliers from various backgrounds – Khmer, Khmer-Vietnamese, and Vietnamese children and adolescents.
Representatives of Vietnamese minorities are making use of their newly acquired knowledge about their legal situation when engaging in negotiations with local authorities. As a result, they can constructively address conflicts through dialogue.

Civil Peace Service (CPS). Former Vietnamese refugees live on houseboats, because they are not allowed to own land without holding Cambodian citizenship. © GIZ