The government’s countrywide census of foreigners resulted in the first deportations, as six undocumented Vietnamese workers were sent back across the border from Ratanakkiri province last week, officials said yesterday.
The move prompted one provincial NGO worker to call for more deportations as part of a tougher approach to illegal immigrants crossing into Cambodia from Vietnam.
Meung Sineath, Ratanakkiri Provincial Hall spokesman, told the Post that “many” Vietnamese were included in the provincial census, which he said began on August 15 – but just six were found to be living there illegally.
“Those six Vietnamese men had crossed the border illegally to live in Cambodia for one or two months,” he said, adding that the men had been working in carpentry and construction jobs.
According to Sineath, immigration police on Friday ordered the men to return to Vietnam via the O’Yadav checkpoint.
Sineath said that full results of the provincial census, which wrapped up over the weekend, would be released in a report “soon”.
The census, which has also begun in Pursat province and is soon to start in Kampong Chhnang, has been presented as a government effort to take a more precise count of foreigners living in Cambodia.
While the census has been welcomed as a possible first step in developing a clearer policy regarding undocumented Vietnamese seeking to be recognised as Cambodian citizens, concerns have also been raised that people could be unfairly targeted and deported.
But Chhay Thy, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, called for more deportations, saying that last week’s number fell far short of addressing illegal immigration in the northeastern province.
“We rarely see the authorities arrest and deport Vietnamese people like this,” he said. “We want to see the authorities keep taking these measures in the future, not just do it now and stop. This is not acceptable.
“As an NGO, we want the border police to take serious action to check and examine the Vietnamese, not just let them cross the border [illegally],” he said. “In fact, hundreds of Vietnamese people cross the border by bus to work for [Cambodian] companies by using a tourist visa,” he said.
The issue of immigration from Vietnam has long fuelled tensions in the Kingdom. In the past year, the issue has reared its head again due to several incidents of violence against residents thought to be Vietnamese.
While the deportations may heighten fears close to the border, in Kandal province’s Lvea Em district, ethnic Vietnamese residents said yesterday they were unfazed by the census and its possible implications.
“I was born in Cambodia and have been living here most of my life. The local authority knows this, so there is nothing to worry about,” 74-year-old Nguyen Vaing Lang said.
But Vaing Lang had another concern, one echoed by multiple Vietnamese residents yesterday: a lack of official Cambodian citizenship.
A 49-year-old Vietnamese fisherman, who asked not to be named, said the hefty price tags attached to Cambodian identity documents meant that they were out of reach for most of the residents of his humble fishing community.
“We are poor and do not have money to afford the ID prices,” he said, claiming that the documents came at a cost of up to $500.
“For the people who have money, they can afford it, but people like us we cannot,” he said. “I want the government to give ID cards to anyone who has been in the country for more than four years.”