IN THE wake of two arrests within the past two weeks of 239 illegal Chinese immigrants,
Police General Skadavy M Ly Roun warns that illegal Chinese immigration poses "a
serious economic, security and political threat" to Cambodia.
A raid on August 19 of a "safe house" in Toul Kork District of Phnom Penh,
which netted 222 illegal Chinese immigrants, was followed by a similar bust on August
31 in Russeykeo District in which an additional 17 Chinese were arrested. Four of
those Chinese arrested on August 19 subsequently escaped custody on August 31.
"After they were arrested, they asked us if they could continue from Cambodia
on to the US, Finland and Germany," said So Vandy of the 222 illegal Chinese
immigrants arrested on August 19. "They told us that they had paid $1500 to
get to Cambodia from China.
Vandy told the Post that he believed the Chinese had entered Cambodia from Vietnam.
"They don't enter at regular border crossings," Vandy said.
"They come in where there are no officials, crossing lakes or through forests
and rice fields."
According to Roun, Cambodia has been a conduit for organized groups of people-smugglers
known as "snakeheads" since the early nineties.
"Illegal Chinese immigrants enter Cambodia every day," Roun told the Post.
"As many as one million Chinese have passed through Cambodia since the early
Post inquiries around the vicinity of the Toul Kork villa that sheltered the 222
Chinese arrested on August 19 support Roun's assertions of the duration of the problem
of illegal Chinese immigrants.
Nearby shopkeepers confirmed that the house had been well-known for sheltering illegal
Chinese immigrants for years.
Roun says that the extent of the problem of illegal Chinese immigration through Cambodia
far exceeds the capacity of the police and the Cambodian government to control it.
"The big problem is not about arresting [Chinese illegal immigrants]: we can
arrest them anytime," Roun said. "The big problem is who is responsible
for them after they're arrested... When they're detained we have to feed them. Also,
who will pay for their ticket back to China?"
Wu Jingshen, First Secretary of the PRC Embassy in Phnom Penh, described Roun's claims
of the numbers of Chinese illegal immigrants who have entered Cambodia in recent
years as "greatly exaggerated".
According to Wu, the key to solving the problem of illegal Chinese immigration is
identification and arrest of the "snakeheads" who run the trade.
"The Chinese immigrants pay a lot of money to the snakeheads, so the snakeheads
have a lot of money," Wu told the Post, adding that the sale of the villa used
by the snakehead involved in the case of the 225 Chinese arrested last week could
easily pay for plane tickets back to China for the entire group.
However, Roun stresses that illegal Chinese immigrants pose more than just a financial
"These people are dangerous to Cambodia," Roun said. "They kill and
kidnap people in the local Chinese community and some of them want to stay and find
In an oblique reference to the long-rumored widespread sale of Cambodian passports
to foreign nationals, Roun warns that by continuing to develop a reputation as a
transit center for illegal Chinese immigration, Cambodia risks limiting the travel
opportunities for its own citizens in the future.
"Right now it's not a problem for Cambodians to travel abroad, but if we continue
to have this problem [with illegal Chinese immigration], in future international
travel for Cambodians might become difficult."