Cambodia's immigration police have rejected claims made in Vietnamese state media that the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh had protected scores of Vietnamese citizens from arrest.
English-language outlet Viet Nam News yesterday reported that at the behest of Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry, the embassy had “conducted measures to ensure citizen protection following Cambodian forces’ arrest of 84 Vietnamese people on July 1”.
“The embassy requested the general department to free the arrestees as most of them are Vietnamese Cambodians residing legally in the country. As of July 3, all of them were set free,” the report read.
But Uk Hai Sela, director of Cambodia’s Immigration Department, rejected that account saying 84 of the Vietnamese – who had not lived here long – had been deported on Monday.
He said 93 were initially arrested in the capital’s Niroth commune in Meanchey province with nine released because they had a residence certificate.
“It’s not correct,” Hai Sela said of the Vietnamese report. “They were all newcomers – some came here for two or three months only, looking for work as construction workers and selling coffee or running massage businesses.
“We will put them on the blacklist – the stop list – so they cannot come back.”
He added that police were not targeting Vietnamese and had arrested 38 nationalities so far this year, though of 2,096 arrests, more than 1,800 were Vietnamese, he said.
Human rights consultant Billy Tai said the conflicting reports reflected the differing “narratives” each government was feeding to their populations.
“Both sides . . . are trying to put forward a narrative; for Cambodia, it’s that the government is tough on immigration,” Tai said. “The propaganda machine needs some results to display . . . and I wonder if these are easy targets.”
Many Vietnamese, he said, had been living in Cambodia for generations, but could not get papers. He added that he did not believe the crackdowns were a direct response to opposition criticisms of Vietnam.
“The CNRP claimed an anti-Vietnamese rhetoric – which is not a unique Cambodian problem, we see it in Australia, the US and Europe – but whenever politicians are inflaming these attitudes for their own benefit, these ethnic minorities who live here will suffer,” he said.