A nationwide census of foreigners that began in August has resulted in 1,299 deportations and fines totalling $340,000 paid into government coffers, according to “temporary results” revealed yesterday.
The results, which exclude deportations this month, were disclosed following a closed door meeting between the Kingdom’s top immigration officials at the Ministry of Interior, where the fate of dozens of Montagnard asylum seekers was also discussed.
Sok Phal, director of the ministry’s Immigration Department, told reporters that 90 per cent of all deportees were Vietnamese nationals.
“The people who do not obey the law, we must gather and push them out,” he said.
The census was presented as a government effort to enforce the Immigration Law and to take a more precise count of foreigners living in Cambodia. But concerns were raised by rights groups and observers that Vietnamese people would be unfairly targeted and deported.
Phal yesterday dismissed allegations of discrimination. “We do not discriminate, but a country’s law is most important,” he said.
In addition to the deportations, others without the correct documentation have been subjected to fines amounting to $340,000.
Phal insisted that individual officers would not profit from the takings.
“The money goes to the state. We do not get even 100 riel,” he explained.
A 2002 census found 70,000 documented foreigners living in the Kingdom, and the latest census has so far found 80,000. Each case will now be examined by a new “Census and Foreigner Management Committee” to “see who has old and new documents so that we can decide who is legal and who is illegal”, Phal said.
The latest census encountered a number of difficulties and only reached about 70 per cent of foreigners, according to Phal.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng revealed that 13 Christian Montagnards who were granted safe passage to Phnom Penh in December to request asylum have yet to be interviewed.
The process “has many formalities”, Kheng said. “When interviewed, those who are real asylum seekers out of torture, mistreatment and political persecution will be determined as refugees and can seek asylum in the third country, but if not qualified, they will not be considered as refugees”.
Inside the meeting, Kheng said that officers have a “duty to follow” the 1951 Refugee Convention, but if asylum seekers do not have the correct documentation they should be deported.
“In every country if you are entering illegally, [you] are dismissed,” he said.
Phal also said that he was unaware of a further 14 Montagnards alleged to be hiding in Ratanakkiri province.