The more things change, the more things stay the same.
I often visit Cambodia, my native country, to do volunteer work (and also to play)
since early 1992. I have been fortunate enough to witness Cambodia grow and develop
as a nation just awakened from decades of devastating war. So much has changed since,
but one thing has not changed. It is the culture of extortion at Pochentong International
Airport in Phnom Penh.
If you are an overseas Khmer traveling through Pochentong over the years, you know
exactly what I am talking about. You may even personally experience some of the cruel
treatments received there. Sadly, it appears that only overseas Khmer are the target
to receive such "special" treatment.
What sort of treatment? It is the extortion of money from overseas Khmer by the custom
officials at Pochentong. The tactic they use is always the same. They hold the passport
(aka passport-knapped) until a hefty ransom is paid. If you pay up, it is quick and
painless. You would be out the door faster than you can say "uncle". If
not, plan on being held up for a long while.
If you are a foreign tourist, you need to pay only the $20 visa fee and need not
worry about associated harassment whatsoever.
My most recent trip to Phnom Penh via Pochentong cost me a total of $40 US. The fact
that overseas Khmer currently do not need to pay a "visa fee" escaped the
professionals at Pochentong all together. I had no choice but to pay the crooked
agent who, I know for a fact, works for a bigger crook at Pochentong. Again, this
is nothing new as it happened all the time to the majority of overseas Khmer who
have no influential relatives or friends to intervene. Yes, it is very sad.
Unfortunately, this has become a routine based on my own and others overseas Khmer's
experience. The airport custom officials know full well that they can get away with
it. There is a good chance, they knew, that the overseas Khmer will not make a big
fuss about it. Not when they know
that the entry into Cambodia (after a very long ride in the plane), will be denied
and the passport is retained indefinitely. Let's just simply call it "airport
robbery" because I do not mind donating some pocket change to underpaid civil
servants. However, a ransom demand is just not acceptable!
- Ronnie Yimsut, Oregon, USA, email: [email protected]