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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Immigration law awaits assembly vote

Immigration law awaits assembly vote

Immigration law awaits assembly vote

Bill dodges citizenship issue

T he much-awaited draft immigration law, which will be submitted

to the National Assembly for a vote when it reconvenes in April, has not dealt

with the contentious issues of nationality and citizenship, according to sources

at the Ministry of the Interior. These issues will be dealt with in a separate

law yet to be drafted.

The new immigration law was expected to determine

how many of the estimated 200,000 to 500,000 ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia, as

well as other ethnic minorities, would be entitled to Cambodian citizenship.

It was also expected to affect the status of the approximately 5,000

Vietnamese refugees who fled Khmer Rouge attacks in the run up to the elections

and are now stuck on the border with Vietnam.

The draft law deals purely

with immigration issues, like deportation and procedures for issuing visas to

foreigners. Government sources say a directorate for immigration will probably

be set up under the Ministry of Interior to look after these issues.

It

could take a few months after the passing of the law for the directorate to

start functioning, if the present draft is accepted. The law also deals with

stricter border control, penal provisions for illegal entrants and also the

issue of corrupt border guards who accept gold in return for passage across the

border.

The source at the Ministry of Interior stressed that the proposed

immigration law is a liberal one, "not one aimed at keeping foreigners out." He

added that it would not violate any of the international covenants to which

Cambodia is a party.

The thorny citizenship issue is now a matter of

debate and speculation - and one of the most pressing questions before the

government.

"In practice, a law defining who is entitled to citizenship

is drafted first, and the entry and exit of foreigners dealt with later," says

one human rights observer.

In most countries, a person is entitled to

citizenship if he or she is born in a country, or is directly related by blood

to someone who is a citizen. This would mean any ethnic Vietnamese, Chinese or

Khmer born in the country will be entitled to citizenship, as would his or her

parents and children.

Citizenship can also be gained by naturalization,

when a person who has lived in a country for the required length of

time-normally 5 to 7 years- and has been law-abiding, can be granted

citizenship. Government sources say the eventual nationality law will follow

both these standards.

The problem for the government is that a

substantial number of people, especially those born before 1975, will probably

not have any birth certificates because most records were destroyed during the

Khmer Rouge years. For Vietnamese and other ethnic minorities who wish to be

naturalized, there is again little documentary proof to prove the period of

residence.

Many people also possess several identity cards-State of

Cambodia (SOC) identity cards, UNTAC election cards and cards from the various

border camps. One solution being proposed within the government is to issue a

new identity card to anyone who qualifies to be a citizen, taking all the above

cards as evidence of residence or birth.

However, a person possessing an

earlier identity card would not automatically qualify, according to the Ministry

of Interior source. The government could possibly use a procedure similar to the

one used to issue UNTAC election cards: detailed questioning and corroboration.

"If a person claims to have lived in Siem Reap since the seventies, we

could question him or her on who the governor was, who the headmaster of their

school was, what important events happened then," the source said. "If they can

answer everything correctly and also possess a SOC and election card, we could

assume they were telling the truth."

The source admits that the method

could also be falsified, alleging that several SOC identity cards and UNTAC

election cards were given to "persons who were actually foreigners." He points

to a recent instance when persons arrested in Japan were found to have Cambodian

passports issued by the SOC government, when in fact they were from Thailand and

Taiwan.

Issuing new cards could take very long, and is still only being

debated.

It is seen by some observers as the only way to a "non-racial

solution" to the nationality question that was recently promised by Foreign

Minister Prince Norodom Sirivudh.

As of now, the immigration law will

leave this question untouched. The nationality issue was dealt with earlier

under SOC laws, which analysts say were very liberal.

However, a

continuance of this trend would likely be opposed by several political parties.

"Both the BLDP and some elements in FUNCINPEC will oppose provisions seen as

liberal towards the Vietnamese," says an observer. But the government source

also points out that "we have to keep in mind our relations with Vietnam: we do

not want any more trouble with our neighbors."

Little is known about when

the big question will finally be dealt with. Asked when the nationality issue

would finally be resolved, the source said : "Another two to three years

maybe... definitely before the next election."

 

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