When the French ruled Indochina, they had a shortage of white collar workers in Cambodia and Laos, so solved it by bringing in many thousands of Vietnamese, which, understandably, didn’t please the Cambodians and Laotians too much. Most of these Vietnamese would be kicked out in waves, sometimes violently, as happened in Cambodia during the 70’s.
Still, many Vietnamese have returned to both countries, and the primary reason is population pressure, for Vietnam has 96 million people, while Cambodia and Laos only 16 and 7 million. It’s also why China and Sub-Saharan Africa will continue to export people.
Although there are certainly rich illegal immigrants, most tend to be poorer than the locals, so in Cambodia, which is even more impoverished than some Sub-Saharan countries, many Vietnamese are in truly sad shape.
A Vietnamese settlement in Svay Pak, north of Phnom Penh, became infamous internationally as a center of child prostitution, and in an American documentary about it, there’s a glimpse of the neighborhood church, so some prayed to Jesus, then sold their daughters. Fortunately, that situation has pretty much been snuffed out.
Just after six one morning, I took a ferry from Phnom Penh to Akreiy Ksatr, in search of its Vietnamese. Forgetting how much it cost, I handed the fare collector 1,000 riels (25 cents), but he gave 500 right back. There were only two cars on the old boat, with the rest pedestrians or motorcyclists, with one lady hitching her Honda to a truck that was laden with cucumbers, carrots, cabbages, lettuces and ginger.