T HE National Assembly met for a second day of debate on the immigration law on Aug 23. The members of parliament met in Chaktomuk Hall to discuss the bill which had originally been scheduled to be debated on Aug 18. By the end of the second day, sixteen of forty articles had been approved, largely without changes.
The bill reached the Assembly after public criticism of the law by the UN Human Rights Field Office and UNHCR.
Following parliamentary practice established in the National Assembly's Internal Rules, the MPs first voted on the "meaning of the entire law," before discussing it article by article.
Ahmad Yahya, member of Parliament, requested that discussion of the draft be postponed until the Nationality Law was released and reconsider the draft as he said he was afraid of the effectiveness of the implementation of the law. He expressed the fear that the law might affect relations between Phnom Penh and Hanoi.
Yahya said: "If we implement this law and it can seriously affect human rights, I believe they [Hanoi government] will put pressure on our country's economy."
Finance Minister Sam Rainsy said one could obtain an ID card for only $30 and the law could not be effective unless it was combined with a nationality law.
One-hundred and four of one-hundred and twenty members of the parliament agreed that an immigration law was necessary to control the influx of illegal foreigners into the country, even in the absence of a nationality law.
With no nationality law, international human rights organizations were fearful that ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia would be targeted. UNHCR officials stated publicly prior to the debate that the Cambodian government had approached UNHCR about the possibility of setting up refugee style camps for Vietnamese in Cambodia so that determinations about their status could be made.
One MP who supported the law said: "It is time to pass the draft into law, because, according to my survey, our citizens are eagerly awaiting this law".
He said the postponement of the session raised many questions. People were charging that Parliament does not want to pass the law, leaving the door open to an influx of foreigners into the country.
He said this is a burden to Parliament and to the Royal Government. He said anyone who has ever gone abroad knows how strict other governments are about immigration. America is a free country which is seriously concerned with human rights, but it is also very strict about immigrants flowing into the country.
He said: "To restrict the immigration law, it doesn't mean we discriminate but we defend our small country from foreign aggression."
Pol Ham said: "I would like the draft law to restrict for authorized officers who close their eyes to let the foreigners flood into the country".
Minister of Interior You Hocry said 70 percent of the immigration law can be implemented and later another 30 percent can be implemented with the nationality law.
In an Aug 16 press release, Asia Watch said the draft Immigration Law could open the way to serious human rights abuses, including the deportation of genuine refugees, arbitrary or mass expulsion of long-term foreign residents, and serious restrictions on free movement within Cambodia.