Sar Kheng: census must be thorough.
T he Ministry of Interior (MoI) has issued instructions to provincial governors and police chiefs to conduct a census of all immigrants living in Cambodia and expel those who entered the country after 1975 and have no documents to prove they are here legally.
Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng told police and provincial governors at a meeting on September 7 that the census must be conducted thoroughly because illegal immigration is a sensitive issue that politicians have traditionally harnessed to further their own interests.
This is the government's first attempt to count illegal immigrants since 2002.
Em Sam An, Secretary of State at the MoI and head of the ministry's Census Committee and Control of Foreign Immigrants, said the registration process is scheduled to begin its first phase on October 2 and will count all immigrants who can provide legal documents that show they have lived in Cambodia since 1975 and before. These individuals will then be eligible for Cambodian citizenship.
The second phase will examine all immigrants who entered Cambodia after 1975. If the necessary documentation is missing, the immigrants will be subject to fines, jail and deportation.
The census will be conducted in Phnom Penh and nine provinces in the east and southeast of Cambodia. After the census, local authorities will have 20 days to send a report to the MoI.
"The law and mechanism and the measures: we have everything now, and I would like to request that work be done thoroughly and perfectly within the nine provinces," Sar Kheng said. "And at the same time we have to take measures to restrict new illegal immigrants entering Cambodia."
He said some politicians have exaggerated the number of Vietnamese immigrants to be between two to four million. He said the MoI found only 70,000 Vietnamese immigrants living in Cambodia in the most recent census held in 1998.
Sam An said some political parties have accused the government of allowing Vietnamese to enter Cambodia and take jobs from Cambodians.
Son Chhay, lawmaker from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), said it is not only Vietnamese but also other immigrants, such as Chinese, who live and work in Cambodia.
"We believe that there are many Vietnamese working in fields such as construction building, beauty shops and a huge amount in fishing, but there are no statistics from those people," Chhay said. "If we look into Khmer immigrants entering Vietnam, they are beggars and are arrested and sent back to the country like animals."
Chhay said that every country has laws against illegal immigrants, and such laws must be implemented with respect to human rights.
"We don't want the government to implement the law based on racism, but on the principle of respecting human rights and the existing laws in the country," Chhay said.
He said the MoI has never released the census results about foreign immigrants to the National Assembly or others.
"I think if the MoI is not able to release detailed results of the census to the stakeholders or members of the parliament it is a meaningless census," Chhay said. "Until now the government has no clear measures against the illegal immigrants in Cambodia."
He said Vietnamese immigration in Cambodia is a sensitive political issue and the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has conspired to hide the statistics.
"If we looked into the reality of figures on ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia, the census conducted by the MoI is not acceptable," Chhay said.
SRP parliamentarian Chan Cheng from Kandal province told the Post on September 14 that the government must enforce the Law on Nationality and Immigration.
Cheng said the government never released the 1998 census results on native language or birth place.
He said in Preak Chrey commune, in the Koh Thom district of Kandal province, there have been 7,000 Vietnamese immigrants registered to vote since 1998, while there are only 1,200 Cambodians in the commune.
"On the voter list issued by the National Election Committee (NEC), each name was spelled in the mother tongue of Vietnam," Cheng said.
"I dare not to say how many Vietnamese immigrants there are in Cambodia, but in Preak Chrey commune alone there were 7,000 Vietnamese and in Sampov Puon commune about 1,000 Vietnamese, and these are just two communes in Kandal province."
Cheng said that by law only King Sihamoni can approve citizenship for foreigners, and so far the King has approved fewer than one hundred.
He said Cambodia and Vietnam have a long history of disputes over territory, and many Cambodian people remain concerned about loss of sovereignty.
The United States Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook says there are roughly 680,000 ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia, or about 5 percent of the 13.6 million population. Estimates by local observers very widely.