The Ministry of Interior plans to retroactively strip citizenship from children of immigrants whom they say were mistakenly awarded Cambodian nationality as long as 30 years ago, according to Interior Minister Sar Kheng and director-general of immigration Sok Phal.
Speaking on Friday during the Immigration Department’s annual meeting, Phal explained that for the last three decades, commune chiefs have occasionally illegally given Cambodian birth certificates, and therefore Cambodian citizenship, to children of non-naturalised immigrants.
“For more than 30 years, the children of migrants got Cambodian citizenship at birth because commune chiefs issued it for them. It is illegal,” Phal said.
“Now, the Ministry of Interior will issue new, different birth certificates to them. The children will get the original citizenship of their parents. If they get Cambodian citizenship through the law, they can change to Cambodian nationality,” he added.
Kheng, who closed the meeting, agreed with the suggestion. “The children of immigrants should get their original citizenship from their parents,” he said.
According to the ministry’s own report, the policy would mostly affect Vietnamese immigrants living in Cambodia. Of the 19,437 families that have legally migrated to Cambodia since 2012, 11,103 of them are Vietnamese. Neither Phal nor Kheng accused any specific commune of wrongdoing, nor did they set out a timeframe for any such review process.
The Kingdom’s Law on Nationality states that citizenship is only conferred by birth upon children who have at least one parent who is a Cambodian citizen, or children whose parents were born in Cambodia, but are not themselves citizens.
The Kingdom’s recent voter registration drive – which required residents to present proof of citizenship – was meant to put to rest longstanding claims of non-Cambodians voting, though the National Election Committee’s review of the new voter list did not include an examination of whether those citizenship documents had been legally granted in the first place.
The opposition, meanwhile, has long railed against what they say are illegal Vietnamese voters casting votes for the ruling party. Others, however, have countered that ethnically Vietnamese Cambodians, even ones whose families have been in Cambodia for generations, are denied access to government documentation and services by virtue of their race.
Political analyst Ou Virak said the current immigration system is in desperate need of reform to prevent these kinds of complications. Calling the citizenship laws “very restrictive”, Virak said the government needs to “come up with better policies and better explanations”.
“The real debate should be whether or not the law should be amended to make the process more reasonable,” Virak said, claiming the CPP has avoided addressing immigration issues because of the party’s controversial ties to Vietnam.
“Their biggest baggage is coming to power as a Vietnam-backed government . . . They don’t want to debate because of that association,” he said.
Moeun Tola, director of migrant rights group CENTRAL, appealed to the government to respect human rights as they prepare to investigate migrants who may have been wrongly granted citizenship.
“Whether they are legal migrants, illegal migrants or legal citizens, their fundamental rights and freedoms should be guaranteed,” he said.