Ngoc Yoeung, 78, has lived in Cambodia his entire life. But yesterday, he and dozens of other ethnic Vietnamese residents reported to immigration police at the Borey Roungroeng Market on Chroy Changvar, where they were stripped of their only forms of legal documentation.
The campaign to cancel “irregular” documents from some 70,000 people – the vast majority of whom are ethnic Vietnamese – began in Kampong Chhnang province last month. Most interviewed there by The Post had no other documents, had lived in Cambodia for generations and had fled briefly during Khmer Rouge rule.
The same was true again yesterday in Chroy Changvar. “Our ancestors and parents were born here,” Yoeung explained, although he was unsure for how many generations.
“We are concerned about the confiscation of documents, but we have no choice. We have to follow them – this is their country and is not our country.”
According to Yoeung, his commune chief and other authorities know that they were born in Cambodia but nonetheless didn’t help them because they are Vietnamese.
“We have legitimate documents and land titles and a home, but if they force us to move, we will follow. We cannot fight with them,” he said.
During the immigration check yesterday, police were hostile to reporters and ordered photographs to be deleted, while trying to prevent interviews from taking place on a public road outside the market.
Immigration Department spokesman Keo Vanthorn has said previously that residents identified as having “irregular” documents should never have received paperwork identifying them as Cambodian to begin with, and would now need to register as migrants.
“They were supposed to apply a long time ago because they have been migrants for a long time in Cambodia. They never should have received Cambodian documents, because those passports and identity cards are for Cambodians,” he told The Post at the end of November.
Ngoc Toub is one of these residents who applied yesterday for identification as a “migrant”.
“My ancestors were born here and I consider myself as a Cambodian person, and now they accuse us of being Vietnamese and want to remove our documents,” she said, sitting under a tree beside the market.
Toub, too, felt powerless before the authorities.“If they want us to stay, we stay; if they want us to leave, we will leave. What can we do? Let it be because we are under their orders,” she said.
In total, the crackdown will affect 20,000 people in Phnom Penh, according to government mouthpiece Fresh News. Immigration officials have confirmed the process will be nationwide, with government newswire AKP announcing that a preparatory meeting was held on Monday in Preah Sihanouk province.
“Revoking the civil documents of individuals who have been living in Cambodia for generations and who have no other nationality would effectively render them stateless, depriving them from many of their fundamental rights, such as access to health care, education, or employment,” said Chak Sopheap, the director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, yesterday.
“What is needed is a transparent, impartial, prompt and fair case-by-case assessment of each individual’s situation,” she added via email.
While human rights observers have expressed concern about the campaign, little concrete assistance has been offered.
Butmao Sourn, director of the Minority Rights Organisation, said his provincial team in Kampong Chhnang documented the operation and is “observing this case”.
Meanwhile, the Khmer-Vietnamese Association has voiced its support of the initiative, saying that it is just intended to enforce the law.
“People do not have the right to hold documents issued by the Cambodian government that are irregular . . . They just confiscate irregular documents, they do not hurt us,” said Ros Chamroeun, deputy director of the association.
Chamroeun said the Vietnamese Embassy had appealed to private companies for support in helping residents pay the 250,000 riel (about $62.50) fee for living in Cambodia “illegally”.
A representative from the Vietnamese Embassy declined to comment.Leaving the market yesterday, Phnom Penh resident Eang Teang led his family to his car after having his documents seized.
“We cannot protest against this even though we have Cambodian family books and land titles . . . Now they do not allow us to become Cambodian citizens but make us immigrants,” Teang said.
“They confiscated everything, including a family book, identification and other documents, and gave back an immigrant card . . . It violates our rights but we cannot protest against it.”