Khmer Krom – The Nowhere People

First used as spies by the CIA during the Vietnam War and later targeted for elimination by Pol Pot’s genocidal regime, Khmer Krom are still victims of numerous human rights violations today. The ones living in Vietnam are being acculturated by Hanoi´s intimidating policies, while others have been forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands in the Mekong Delta and pushed to Cambodia where they are not recognized as full citizens. With no place on either side of the border, the Khmer Krom have become the “nowhere people.” 

This is their story.

I started this project in July 2012, when I spent a week as a tourist visiting some of the Khmer Krom communities and Pagodas in the Mekong Delta. At that point, my aim was just to discover and understand a bit better their ways of life, as well as to visit some of Vietnam’s most iconic sites.

As my first contact with the Khmer Krom communities, my encounter with the reality of their lives was only brief and did not leave me enough time to properly investigate the matter, especially how the restrictions applied by the Vietnamese Government affect the Khmer Krom’s life itineraries.

Therefore, I am planning to go back to the area with the support of several international organisations and NGOs..

It is, of course, an ongoing project.

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Vietnam’s Tra Vinh Province in the heart of the Mekong Delta hosts one of the largest populations of ethnic Khmer in the country. The province has more the 140 Temples and Pagodas.

A Khmer Krom monk in Sam Bua Pagoda, just a few kilometers outside Tra Vinh.

Nuns and monks praying in the Hang Pagoda, just outside Tra Vinh (Vietnam).

Buddhist shrine with portrait of Ho Chi Minh in the Hang Pagoda (Tra Vinh). Khmer Krom monks are required to study Ho Chi Minh’s biography and teach Vietnamese history, with many pagodas maintaining shrines to Ho Chi Minh and displaying Communist Party posters on pagoda walls.

A monk studying in the Koskeoseray Pagoda (Tra Vinh – Vietnam). On the wall a picture of Avalokiteśvaras, who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. Portrayed in different cultures as either male or female, Avalokiteśvara is one of the more widely revered bodhisattvas in mainstream Mahayana Buddhism, as well as unofficially in Theravada Buddhism.

Young Khmer Krom monks smoking in Sam Bua Pagoda, just a few kilometers outside Tra Vinh.

Vien Minh Pagoda, Ben Tre (Vietnam). An interesting feature of pagoda is the large white statue of Quan The Am Bo Tat (Goddess of Mercy). The pagoda belongs to Mahayana Buddhism, the most important branch in Vietnam.

Interior of a Catholic Church in Can Tho (Vietnam).

Khmer Krom’s members preparing the Wat Mahatup Pagoda for a ceremony.

A monk smoking in the Trá Sat Pagoda nearby Tra Vinh (Vietnam).

Khmer Krom’s members preparing the Wat Mahatup Pagoda for a ceremony.

Khmer Krom’s members during a ceremony in the Wat Mahatup Pagoda, nearby Soc Trang (Vietnam).

Khmer Krom’s members during a ceremony in the Wat Mahatup Pagoda, nearby Soc Trang (Vietnam).

Board with khmer and vietnamese words in the Chanrangsey Pagoda in central Saigon (Vietnam).

The Chinese Ong Pagoda in Can Tho (Vietnam).

Members of the Cham’s community of Chau Doc (Vietnam), preparing food in the last day of the Ramadam.

The Cham’s mosk of Chau Doc (Vietnam).

A Cham’s cemetery in Chau Doc (Vietnam).

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