Seventeen families from Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district, who claim they have lived in the area for two decades and are Cambodian by birth, protested against district authorities on Wednesday for designating them as Vietnamese immigrants.
The families, from Chak Angre Krom commune’s Tuol Roka village, say district authorities are refusing to provide documentation because the Immigration Department has included them on a list.
Meanwhile, their village and commune chiefs and the commune police chief all told The Post that they recognise the villagers as Cambodian.
Villager Kheang Chheng Nath, 37, said she has lived in the commune for 20 years and has a family book, an identity card, a residency certificate and a voting card.
Chheng Nath, who was born in Stoung district’s Kampong Chen Tbong commune in Kampong Thom province said: “I only found out that my family has been classified as Vietnamese immigrants last year when my child needed to prepare documents to start Grade 9 at Chak Angre Krom High School.”
She said she went to the district authorities to obtain the documentation but was refused.
They suggested she verify her documents at the police station and the commune where she lived to confirm her identity.
She said she did as instructed but the district authorities then asked the villagers to request for documents from the Immigration Department to provide to the district authorities.
Another villager on the list, Sokh Hean, 74, claimed she has lived in the village since the Sangkum Reastr Niyum era and she also has a family book, identity card and a certificate from Chak Angre Krom commune proving she is Cambodian.
Hean said she was concerned for the future of her children.
Choeun Savath, also on the list, said he was born in Takeo province’s Kiri Vong district and had lived in Tuol Roka village for 20 years.
“They included my family as Vietnamese immigrants so now, when I need to authenticate my child’s birth certificate, [they refuse],” he said.
All 17 families have shown their identity cards and family books to commune police. Tuol Roka village chief Hor Yiev said the families are certainly Cambodian and have identity cards to prove it.
He said he had known them since their ancestors’ generation and did not support their inclusion on the list.
“We do not know why the Immigration Department included them on the Vietnamese immigrant list as they are Cambodians by birth,” Yiev said. He thought perhaps it was because the police did not come to ask him.
Chak Angre Krom commune police chief Vuth Phosaravoun said on Tuesday the police recognised the villagers as Cambodian when they recorded them in the census.
“I have confirmed already that they are all Cambodian, but the district authorities insist they are immigrants and I don’t know about their side of things.”
Chak Angre Krom commune chief Chea Sokhai confirmed on Wednesday that the families were included on the list, but did not know the reason.
He said he recognised them as Cambodian.
Meanchey district deputy governor Ma Sopheap said on Wednesday that it was not his decision to put them on the immigration list.
“Whether those people are on a list of immigrants or not is under the authority of the immigration police,” he said.
The Post was unable to obtain an explanation from the Immigration Department.
The department’s spokesman, Keo Sarin, said on Tuesday that the names were included after a thorough background investigation.
“They claim like this, but . . . if they are Cambodian, they need to have witnesses to prove it and they need to have documents proving [their nationality] and where they come from,” he said.
Sarin said he could not comment on this particular case before he had investigated the reports thoroughly.
He said the department was undertaking a campaign to seize irregular documents held by foreigners.