Immigration officials vowed yesterday to halt corrupt local authorities from permitting illegal Vietnamese migrants to work in the Kingdom by providing them with identification documents, but admitted they had no system to tell their IDs apart from the genuine ones.
Speaking during the immigration department’s annual meeting yesterday, Nov Leakhena, deputy director of the department, said some authorities at the commune and district level “do not know what the immigration law is”.
Leakhena cited Prek Chrey commune in Kandal province along the Vietnamese border as one place where fraud was rampant, saying that “99 families” claimed they were born in Prek Chrey “even though they cannot speak one word of Khmer – that is an issue”.
“Vietnamese people go back and forth according to their desires … on the road on the Cambodian side, there are no authorities properly checking who is coming in, and they can enter any time they want to, and this is a challenge,” Leakhena added.
Sok Phal, head of the general immigration department, said authorities had been working to “verify” peoples’ identification documents across the country, but still had Phnom Penh and Kandal province left.
Phal warned, however, that local officials had already been given light “administrative” punishments for issuing the documents.
“If they do not listen, we will implement and send them to court according to the law,” he said.
Earlier this month, Sok Phal also warned that police manning the Kingdom’s border who accepted bribes to look the other way as people crossed over would be sent to court.
Police began an ongoing immigration crackdown last year that saw deportation figures triple to 4,312 people for 2015, 90 per cent of them Vietnamese.
The timing of the crackdown raised eyebrows from analysts, however, who pointed out that it came following repeated opposition complaints over Vietnamese influence in Cambodia, a long-time bone of contention.
Sovanrith Noun, deputy director of the Minority Rights Organization, said that some Vietnamese migrant workers – particularly in the construction sector – only came to Cambodia for a short period of time and sometimes paid off local authorities to obtain registration books or other kinds of documents.
Noun was quick to point out, however, that those economic migrants ought not to be confused with the ethnic Vietnamese community in Cambodia, who number in the hundreds of thousands and often lack any kind of legal documentation due to their poverty and rampant discrimination against them.
“It’s very difficult for them to live in Cambodia … it especially affects their [ability] to go to school and find a job,” he said.
“You can say discrimination between Cambodians and Vietnamese is a long story.”
Additional reporting by Charles Rollet.