More than 76,000 suspected foreign nationals have Cambodian residency or citizenship documents with “irregularities”, the Interior Ministry said on Friday, a day after the Cambodia National Rescue Party had stirred concerns about the possibility of foreigners voting illegally.
The progress report for the ministry’s now-two-year-old “foreigner census” program, which showed just under 161,000 immigrants residing within the Kingdom, stated that 10,892 foreigners, 9,221 of them Vietnamese, had been deported since the census began in 2014.
The CNRP on Thursday pledged to send independent monitors to voter registration stations to lodge complaints against those whose citizenship they deemed questionable – a pledge that raised eyebrows given its potential to fan tensions with ethnic Vietnamese residents, who have faced problems at the polls in the past.
CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay yesterday said that he was not confident of the ministry’s figures. “The number the government announced, more than 100,000, is questionable,” Chhay said. “Some people say there’s more than a million illegal migrants in the country, but as a lawmaker I cannot guess the number. We have to do a serious study before I can say anything about that.”
Chhay rebuffed insinuations that the CNRP pledge to monitor for non-Khmer voters was racially motivated, and said that he had prepared a letter to be delivered to the Interior Ministry asking to see a list of all foreigners who have acquired citizenship since the start of the year, in order to determine whether identity documents presented by would-be voters not born in Cambodia are genuine.
The ministry’s report was just the latest in a string of recent government missives pertaining to its at-times controversial eastern neighbour.
Last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen reiterated a months-old order banning the leasing of Cambodian land near the border to Vietnamese nationals, posting on his Facebook page that it is “forbidden to rent land to Vietnamese people”. And on Saturday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a diplomatic note to the Vietnamese Embassy calling on it to halt a litany of contentious border-area developments across five provinces.
Meanwhile, researcher Sok Touch, appointed by the government to carry out a study of its Vietnam border demarcation efforts, gave a frank seminar to officials at the Peace Palace on Thursday criticising both what he characterised as the government’s mismanagement of the frontier, and the opposition’s use of the border as a wedge issue.
Var Kimhong, senior minister for border affairs, pushed back at Touch yesterday for the criticism, saying that there was “no need for Sok Touch to do a study”, and admonishing him not to “look down on border authorities”.
Additional reporting by Jack Davies