Forced from Lake to Land: Environment, Ethnicity, and Exclusion in Cambodia

Authors: Timothy Gorman*, Montclair State University, Alice Beban, Massey University
Topics: Development, Natural Resources, Asia
Keywords: Cambodia, ethnicity, displacement, resistance, fisheries
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 45
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Cambodia’s Tonle Sap lake provides a crucial food source and means of livelihood for thousands of fishers, including Khmers and Cham Muslims as well as a large community of ethnic Vietnamese. Many of these fishers have no permanent homes on land, and instead reside on houseboats, clustered in so-called “floating villages.” Recently however, the Cambodian government has responded to dwindling fish stocks and increasing pollution by dispersing these villages and forcing fishers off the lake.

This paper uses the ongoing eviction of fishers from the Tonle Sap to examine broader themes around citizenship, displacement, and access to common-pool resources in Cambodia, focusing in particular on how environmental policies in the country have been inflected by inter-ethnic tensions and the resurgence of anti-Vietnamese sentiment. Through interviews with Cham, Khmer, and Vietnamese fishers, we seek to understand how these groups have responded to the resettlement campaign, and how differences in social status and legal standing have shaped the impacts of forced relocation. While the Khmer and Cham fishers are Cambodian citizens, the Vietnamese are essentially stateless, despite having resided in the country for generations. For this reason, the Cham and Khmer have been able to mobilize and secure nearby land from local authorities, and have thus largely been able to continue fishing. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese have been left in limbo, with some squatting on the banks of the lake while others have opted to abandon fishing altogether and migrate to Phnom Penh or Vietnam in search of informal employment.

Abstract Information

This abstract is already part of a session. View the session here.

To access contact information login