The Son of the Empire

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Living conditions of the (illegal) Vietnamese in Cambodia

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07 October 2007
By Kim Pov Sottan
Radio Free Asia

Translated from Khmer by Heng Soy

youn killer  illegal youn village  Sampheng youn

  •  Three Vietnamese suspects involved in the murder case described above (Photo: Bun Nak, Koh Santepheap newspaper)
  • Vietnamese floating village in Siem Reap (Photo: Bob Holz, posted online)
  • Inset: Vietnamese prostitute arrested and charged for leading a group of Vietnamese assassins to come to rob and kill one of her customer (Photo: Bun Nak, Koh Santepheap newspaper)

RFA traveled to Phsar Chhnang commune, Kampong Chhnang province, along the Tonle Sap Lake, where the Cambodian authorities claimed that several tens of thousands of Vietnamese immigrants – who hold proper immigration papers issued by the Ministry of interior – are living. However, (it turned out that) this is not an area where legal Vietnamese immigrants are living.

Everybody we asked as to whether they had a legal passport to cross into Cambodia or not. The answers were unanimous: None whatsoever. These Vietnamese cross into Cambodia from Vietnam by boats, and most of them claim that it was to find a better living condition by living on the (Tonle Sap) Lake inside Cambodia, where they have settled until now.

40-year-old Nguyen Thi Thu lives on a boat near Kandal village. She just arrived from Vietnam one year ago. She said that she has no Vietnamese identification papers, no passport, no nothing, this simply means that she entered Cambodia illegally and she continued to live under this condition and she even gives birth here in Cambodia. “She said that she did not obtain the Cambodian citizenship, but she received an identification paper showing that she is Vietnamese, and she said that they allow her to live here (in Cambodia) temporarily.”

Some live in Cambodia for 5 years already, others live here for 10 or even 20-year. A 70-year-old Vietnamese man praised his living condition in Cambodia, saying that living here is very easy, nobody dares chase him to somewhere else, even though he does not hold a Cambodian identification. “Living here is easy … I don’t want to go back south (Vietnam) anymore, I am living in Cambodia. There’s nothing to be scared of, in Cambodia, what is there to fear?”

In Cambodia, currently, there is not a single region that is not touched by immigrants, especially Vietnamese immigrants, whether they are legal or illegal. This issue is becoming a complicated matter now, and politicians have criticized that this situation creates a bad condition to the Cambodian society.

Suon Visal, a legal official, said that the fact there is no set region (for the immigrants to live in) prevents the authority from knowing the exact number of these immigrants, and they will also have difficulties in the administration of these immigrants. The results (of this carelessness) allow criminals to commit their actions and causing disorder in the society.

Suon Visal said: “As I told you about the law at the beginning, there is no way to determine the immigrants, there is no single place for them to live. If they are allowed to live anywhere they want, there will be a lot of problems, that is we lose our national integrity in the governance of the country, in this manner, any nationalities can come and live here (as they want). We cannot govern the country with such a lax system, problems will arise. There could be a lot of problems in the society involving governance, security, social order, and the integrity of a country.”

Regarding the flow of Vietnamese people into Cambodia, Thach Setha, a former Senator and current President of the Khmer Kampuchea-Krom Community, claimed that the number of Vietnamese immigrants is very huge ever since the Vietnamese troop invaded Cambodia in 1979.

Thach Setha believes that the settling of the majority of Vietnamese immigrants in Cambodia was planned and it also received protection as well.

Thach Setha said: “They (VN immigrants) did not come (to Cambodia) due to political or economical reasons, the majority of them are ordered to come in by their organizations. Their arrival was clearly ordered by an organization, and they even have their own leaders (set up). The leaders receive salary from Vietnam, and they led groups of Vietnamese workers to settle in Cambodia through their organizations and associations which have been set up in 9 provinces and municipalities.”

Even though Thach Setha leveled these accusations, Khieu Kanharith, government spokesman, declared that among the (Vietnamese) immigrants, some are born here, while others have proper paper works allowing them to live in Cambodia legally as immigrants.

Thach Setha indicated: “The yearly authorization paper (to live in Cambodia), they already have it, the question is: how many times can they renew this paper? (In Cambodia now,) don’t we have people from France, England, etc… who came here also? They renew their permit to live here. But, their permits specify where they live, work, etc… and they still keep their citizenships (unlike the Vietnamese).”

Opposition MP Son Chhay said that the situation should not be as it is currently. According to the immigration law, immigrants entering Cambodia must possess a passport and proper visa. When they overstay their visa, they will be charged.

He added that this problem occurs because Cambodian laws are too lax: “Immigrants usually move to a location where the living condition is higher, but we are really puzzled to see these Vietnamese coming to Cambodia where the economic condition is three times lower than in Vietnam. Jobs are hard to come by (in Cambodia), why do they come here? This is the first problem. The second problem is the lax condition and the lack of responsibility from the immigration officers and our government, they left (the border) open and create this anarchy.”

Son Chhay added that additional legal measures are necessary to regulate deportations, and to reign in on illegal immigrants who in some cases, are coming to Cambodia because of the policy (set up by the Cambodian government).

Suon Visal stressed that he believes that with a tightening of the existing immigration law, all these problems would be resolved.


Written by Kolbot Khmer

October 9, 2007 at 3:13 pm

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