A BOUT 1000 Vietnamese refugees stranded in Chrey Thom risk losing the chance to
prove their Cambodian nationality because they were absent during the official
government head count and registration of refugees which ended in early
The refugees, whose families are mostly still on the border,
were probably in Cambodia fishing or trading, according to people working with
For many months now, refugees have been moving in and out
of Cambodia for trade leaving their boats and families behind, and traveling in
mostly overland, one worker said, but some seem to have left
The number of refugees, over 6,000 in 1993, had reduced to
2835 by the time the government counted them on Feb 5. An earlier count taken by
agencies working with the refugees on Jan 20 found a total of 3,953.
border police who took the government count told people that they should give
the exact number of families along with documentation, said one
"The police did not accept the claims of family members who were
away because they could not be verified. The people chose to leave them out
rather than risk the entire family remaining unregistered," he said.
people are very happy that at last the count has been carried out. In contrast
to other parts of the country, where Vietnamese often complain of police
harassment, the people here are very happy with the police," he said.
count found 453 families, of which 21 families had idenfification papers proving
their residence in the country before 1970. While 24 families had no papers,
most had SOC papers or UNTAC voter cards.
Meanwhile, a meeting of the
joint commission of Cambodian and Vietnamese experts on the immigration issue
which was supposed to be at the end of February has not yet been held. Lour
Ramin, director of the Department of Immigration in the Ministry of Interior,
said no date has been fixed yet for the meeting.
"The Cambodian side has
already prepared its agenda for the meeting, but I do not know when the
Vietnamese experts will be invited to come to Phnom Penh," he
Another senior official said the delay was because there were "no
easy answers" to the problems in implementing the immigration law.
focus now is on the Chrey Thom refugees and we are optimistic that the problem
will be resolved soom. But that still leaves open the larger question of
Vietnamese in Cambodia."
The government had said there would be no mass
expulsions, no bias in the implementation of the immigration law and full
co-operation with Vietnam. That was positive, he said, but it was difficult to
even discuss these without a nationality law.
The nationality law will
decide whether Vietnamese will be eligible to apply for citizenship on the basis
of birth or residence, and will also decide whether dual citizenship will be
The official pointed out that the dual citizenship issue was
also politically sensitive because several FUNCINPEC and BLDP members are
citizens of Western countries like Australia, the US and France.
is also the separate question of what will happen to the ethnic Vietnamese who
fled massacres in 1993 along with the Chrey Thom refugees, but went to Vietnam.
UNHCR estimates put the number at around 39,000. Said one aid worker: "There is
no mention anywhere about what will happen to them,even in the statement
released after Prime Minister Ranariddh's visit to Hanoi."