Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia's Vietnamese residents set adrift

Cambodia's Vietnamese residents set adrift

Cambodia's Vietnamese residents set adrift

cambo.jpg
cambo.jpg

A Vietnamese floating community, cut adrift by Phnom Penh authorities,

drift down the Tonle Sap

K

ANDAL - In the Bassac River town of Chrey Thom on the border of Vietnam, approximately

200 residents of the former floating village of Phnom Penh's Meanchey District contemplate

their last hours as residents of Cambodia.

Under the watchful gaze of immigration officials from both sides of the border, the

final act of Phnom Penh Mayor Chea Sophara's drive to evict the villagers from their

former home near the Monivong Bridge is about to unfold.

"This will be our last night here," Dang Sambo said of the stretch of grassy

riverbank across from Chrey Thom village to which he and approximately 200 other

of his neighbors and relatives have moored their houseboats since their forcible

eviction from Phnom Penh on Oct 23. "The [Cambodian] immigration police have

told us that we must continue down river into Vietnam tomorrow, or they will cut

our lines and force us to leave."

The imminent deportation of Sambo and his fellow floating villagers is the climax

of several days of what they describe as "savage" treatment they experienced

during their journey down the Bassac from Phnom Penh.

"Wherever we stopped along the way, people would demand between 5000-10,000

riels from us," Sambo said. "In the morning, they'd cut our [mooring] lines

and force us to leave."

Sambo, a father of five who worked as a construction worker in Phnom Penh before

his eviction, claims to bear no malice towards the Phnom Penh government for his

predicament, instead alluding darkly to "people behind the scenes" for

his eviction. "Let me say this straight - the Sam Rainsy Party must be behind

this [because] they hate Vietnamese people".

Chea Sophara dismissed allegations of racism motivating the evictions, describing

them as a "benefit" to the relations between Vietnam and Cambodia. "On

the contrary, [the evictions] will help to strengthen the friendship and solidarity

between Cambodia and Vietnam," Sophara told the Post. "[The evictions symbolize

that] that we are honest with each other [about our mutual problems]."

The prospect of beginning a new life in Vietnam provides little comfort for Sambo

and his ethnic Vietnamese neighbors.

"I'm scared of Cambodia, scared of this word yuon, but I still don't want to

leave," he explained. "I'm half-Khmer, not pure, but I was born in Cambodia,

my parents lived in Cambodia before [King] Sihanouk's reign...we're not Vietnamese

[citizens], we're Cambodians,"

Nonsense, says Sophara. "Those people in Meanchey District were relative newcomers

to Phnom Penh," he insisted.

According to Sambo, proof of their Cambodian citizenship and residence rights were

stripped from them by police officials in the days prior to their eviction.

"We had to surrender our family books and identification documents to police,,"

Sambo said. "They made us pay 6000 riels and said we'd receive new documents,

but we never saw our documents again."

Sambo's pleas of Cambodian residency are rejected outright by Phnom Penh Mayor Chea

Sophara. "Those people held fake documents and police investigated their residency

carefully and properly before removing them,"

Sophara says that the eviction of the Meanchey floating villagers is just the first

phase in a comprehensive crackdown on illegal aliens in Phnom Penh, starting with

Vietnamese.

"We're going to carefully target illegals living in Phnom Penh section by section,"

he said. "We'll identify [the illegals] person by person, family by family through

their documentation...if they're legal they can stay, if not they'll be sent back

to their own country."

Although Sophara described the eviction as a "good first step" in "educating"

Vietnamese to not see Cambodia as a country in which they can reside illegally, his

hopes that Phnom Penh has seen the last of Sambo and his fellow floating villagers

could be short-lived.

Although lacking identity documents of any kind, Sambo claims to have already crossed

and recrossed the border with Vietnam several times without incident, and expects

to one day return to live in Cambodia.

"I don't have any relatives [in Vietnam], I don't know that place," Sambo

said plaintively. "Cambodia is my home."

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