Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thieving border guards at it again

Thieving border guards at it again

Thieving border guards at it again

BORDER officials have resurrected a variation of the cholera epidemic scam they used

last year to bilk tourists for extra fees and fines if they can't produce a vaccination

certificate.

This has been a long-running problem at the Poipet border crossing. Last year the

popular Lonely Planet travel web site was filled with warnings about Cambodian border

officials at Poipet.

Tourists crossing at Poipet were asked to show an international vaccination card

- which is not needed to enter Cambodia. If a tourist did not have a card he or she

would be ordered to pay $5 for a tablet because, said the quarantine officials, there

was a cholera epidemic. The tablet was the antibiotic doxycycline which is useless

as a preventative for cholera.

If the tourists refused to purchase the tablet the officials would produce a document

written in Khmer, saying it was the Government regulations stating that the tourist

must purchase the tablet before entering Cambodia.

Tourists who did not pay were let go with a stern warning. But many bought the tablets

and some, believing the border officials' tales of a cholera epidemic, swallowed

the antibiotic.

Officials are no longer forcing tourists to buy unnecessary medicines, but tourists

report that they are being charged if they can't produce a general vaccination certificate.

Adam Scott, a 20-year-old backpacker from England, crossed the Vietnam-Cambodia border

at Bavet on June 28. He said he and five other foreigners were told at the immigration

desk that they were required to have a vaccination card to enter Cambodia.

The travelers were given the choice of buying a health card at the border for $10,

or paying a $1 fine. Scott said they opted to pay the fine.

"I thought it was a joke at first, I found it quite funny. But I was pissed-off

as well because money is a bit tight.

"As a first impression it is definitely not good, but after the six-hour bumpy

bus ride [from the border] to Phnom Penh you forget."

It is not just quarantine officials who are scamming. Immigration officials are also

adding a little something extra to the standard charges.

A 32-year-old Canadian who applied for a Cambodian business visa at the Koh Kong

border on July 1 was told by Cambodian immigration officials that he must pay $30.

The Canadian told the immigration officers the official price of a business visa

is only $25. He said the immigration officers just laughed and dropped the price

back down to $25.

"You expect to be overcharged for things at the markets, but coming from border

officials this is extremely unprofessional," he said. "The Government is

trying to promote tourism, but there doesn't seem to be any central control over

officials."

The Head of the Ministry of Interior's Immigration Department, Prok Saroeun, said

immigration officials are not permitted to ask tourists to pay extra fees or to fine

them for not having vaccination cards.

Saroeun said tourists who are bothered by corrupt immigration officials should report

the incident to his department.

The Minister of Health, Hong Sun Huot, said the quarantine service has offices at

Pochentong Airport and Sihanoukville Port to prevent diseases from entering Cambodia.

At border check points quarantine officials are stationed to control the import of

medicines.

"We have no policy to fine tourists or ask them for a health card," he

said.

Huot said the Ministry of Health will investigate and he urged tourists who encounter

problems at the border to report the name of the official to the Ministry.

The Acting Minister for Tourism, Nuth Nin Doeurn, said his ministry is very concerned

about the effect corrupt border officials have on the image of Cambodia's tourist

industry.

He said though his ministry is not directly responsible for the activities of border

officials, tourism authorities realize this is the first impression tourists get

of Cambodia, so they have offered training to border officials on how to treat tourists

politely and professionally.

Doeurn said Prime Minister Hun Sen was aware of past problems at Cambodia's border

points and had asked the Immigration Department to solve them.

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