Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Interior Ministry identifies 70,000 ‘improper’ citizens, mostly ethnic Vietnamese

Interior Ministry identifies 70,000 ‘improper’ citizens, mostly ethnic Vietnamese

Interior Minister Sar Kheng speaks at a forum yesterday at the Interior Ministry.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng speaks at a forum yesterday at the Interior Ministry. Heng Chivoan

Interior Ministry identifies 70,000 ‘improper’ citizens, mostly ethnic Vietnamese

The Ministry of Interior is moving forward with a plan to revoke official documents from 70,000 individuals living in Cambodia, claiming they were “improperly” issued and mistakenly confer citizenship on “immigrants” – many of whom are ethnic Vietnamese born in Cambodia.

Minister Sar Kheng headed a meeting yesterday to discuss revoking mistakenly issued or erroneous documents.

“There are foreigners who hold inaccurate documents because they were issued improperly. The officials’ ability is weak and the weakness is not from the bottom, but is from the top,” Kheng said, explaining that there isn’t a coherent enough national policy.

“It is a national problem, not any specific person. Therefore, we need to solve this,” he added.

Sok Phal, head of the Immigration Department, said the offending officials would be “punished” and that the sub-decree would be implemented over the coming months.

“The people obtaining the documents also have to take responsibility, but if we arrested them all, we would not have a cell to throw them in,” Phal said, explaining there are around 70,000 with illegitimate citizenship.

Phal acknowledged that most of the offenders were ethnic Vietnamese who had been born in Cambodia and have no other citizenship.

He said a sub-decree passed in August allows authorities to cancel documents like identity cards and passports, effectively revoking citizenship from thousands, though he denied this was the case on the grounds they should never have been citizens.

“We don’t remove their citizenship, they are Vietnamese. We just take the Cambodian documents,” he said.

Phal said the individuals would be labelled as illegal migrants, but assured they would not be forcibly removed. In the capital, the ministry has already identified 7,501 cases of incorrect birth certificates and 305 erroneous passports.

“We do not have policies like Lon Nol or Pol Pot of evacuating or killing . . . They can go back to their country. On the other hand, because they lived here for a long time, they can file an application with authorities to check whether they can get the status as an immigrant,” he said.

Anti-Vietnamese sentiment has long coloured both Cambodian politics and social discourse. Former Prime Minister Lon Nol oversaw massacres of ethnic Vietnamese, and the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders are on trial in part for genocide against the Vietnamese. The Cambodia National Rescue Party, meanwhile, has used anti-Vietnamese rhetoric to galvanise supporters.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, called the policy a “disastrous rights violating plan”.

“Such a plan would be a blatant violation of the [1954 United Nations] Statelessness Convention because these people have nowhere else that they claim citizenship. You can also bet that doing this would make Cambodia’s human trafficking problem a whole [lot] worse,” Robertson said via email.

Additional reporting by Andrew Nachemson

MOST VIEWED

  • Chinese group tours return to Cambodia starting Feb 6

    Cambodia is among 20 countries selected by Beijing for a pilot programme allowing travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, following a three-year ban. As the days tick down until the programme kicks off on February 6,

  • Capital-Poipet express rail project making headway

    The preliminary results of a feasibility study to upgrade the Phnom Penh-Poipet railway into Cambodia’s first express railway indicate that the project would cost more than $4 billion and would take around four years to complete. The study was carried out by China Road and

  • Thai boxers to join SEA Games’ Kun Khmer event

    The Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) – together with the Kun Khmer International Federation (KKIF) and Khmer Boxing Federation – have achieved a “great success” by including Kun Khmer in the upcoming biennial multi-sports event on its home soil for the first time, said a senior

  • Bullets to bracelets: Siem Reap man makes waste from war wearable

    Jewellery is often made from valuable gemstones like emeralds or diamonds and precious metals like gold or silver, or valueless things like animal horns. But a man in Siem Reap has approached the manufacture of delicate pieces from a different angle. His unique form of

  • Second Hungary business forum set for H2

    Cambodia has asked Hungary to provide GSP- (Generalised System of Preferences) Plus facilities for when the Kingdom sheds its least-developed country (LDC) label, as the two countries prepare to hold a second business forum in the second half (H2) of this year to expand trade

  • 61% of 2022 imports came from just 3 markets

    The three largest exporters to Cambodia – mainland China, Vietnam and Thailand – accounted for 60.94 per cent of the Kingdom’s total merchandise imports last year, at $18.245 billion, which was up 11.99 per cent over 2021, according to the General Department of Customs and Excise. Cambodia’s total imports