Sok Hieng* is concerned about a government census of foreigners that some observers believe will focus primarily on those of Vietnamese descent.
“I am afraid that I will be forced to leave Cambodia because I do not have ID yet,” said Hieng, a 33-year-old construction worker who was born in Phnom Penh to Vietnamese parents. “When I go to Vietnam, they consider me Cambodian; I am in the middle between Cambodian and Vietnamese.”
The government effort to take a more precise count of foreigners living in Cambodia could be the first step in developing a clearer policy regarding undocumented Vietnamese in the Kingdom seeking to be recognised as citizens, said Ang Chanrith of Minority Rights Organization (MIRO).
Sok Phal, head of the Ministry of Interior’s immigration department, yesterday declined to answer questions about the data gathering, except to say that it is not yet complete.
Children born in Cambodia to Vietnamese parents are not given birth certificates or family books. In addition, a convoluted citizenship application process that requires everything from language tests to the King’s signature makes it difficult for those people to obtain citizenship, Chanarith said.
“What we are concerned with is how can the Vietnamese live in Cambodia legally, when the authorities in each province never issue family books?” Chanarith asked. “It’s not the [ethnic] Vietnamese fault, it is the government’s fault.”
Hieng said he did not attend school as a child, partially because schools require the birth certificate he lacked. As an adult, he has been turned down when applying for citizenship because after living in a predominantly Vietnamese community for years, his Khmer isn’t clear enough, he added.
But Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Yim Sovann said census data should be used to stem illegal immigration. “At least we will know how many illegal immigrants are here in Cambodia, where they are and what they are doing here,” he said, adding that illegal Vietnamese immigration damages Cambodia’s society, economy and security.
*Name changed to protect identity.