VN asks ‘mi­grants’ rights be re­spected

The Phnom Penh Post - - NATIONAL - An­drew Nachem­son and Kong Meta

THE Viet­namese Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs re­sponded on Tues­day to re­ports that Cam­bo­dia plans to re­voke doc­u­ments from thou­sands of eth­nic Viet­namese, urg­ing the King­dom to re­spect le­gal rights dur­ing the process.

The plan, which the gov­ern­ment has said it will start car­ry­ing out over the next two months, is said to in­volve strip­ping the cit­i­zen­ship of tens of thou­sands of “for­eign­ers” – many of whom are eth­nic Viet­namese who have no cit­i­zen­ship else­where.

“We hope that while peo­ple are wait­ing for their le­gal doc­u­ments to be com­pleted, they will be able to main­tain a stable life and con­tinue con­tribut­ing to Cam­bo­dia’s so­cio-eco­nomic devel­op­ment,” said spokes­woman Le Thi Thu Hang, ac­cord­ing to Reuters.

The Im­mi­gra­tion Depart­ment an­nounced last week that it had iden­ti­fied 70,000 in­di­vid­u­als with “mis­taken” doc­u­men­ta­tion, in­clud­ing pass­ports and national iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cards, and would be re­vok­ing them in the com­ing months.

Asked yes­ter­day when the au­thor­i­ties would be­gin tak­ing away pa­per­work, depart­ment Direc­tor Sok Phal wrote by email, “The group is pre­par­ing to go down”, with­out elab­o­rat­ing fur­ther or re­spond­ing to sub­se­quent ques­tions.

Be­fore the Kh­mer Rouge takeover, many eth­nic Viet­namese were granted cit­i­zen­ship un­der the 1954 Na­tion­al­ity Laws, ac­cord­ing to hu­man rights lawyer Lyma Nguyen. After flee­ing the Pol Pot regime, they were then de­nied le­gal recog­ni­tion upon re­turn­ing to Cam­bo­dia.

“They can­not prove their ac­qui­si­tion of cit­i­zen­ship, in part due to their forced re­lo­ca­tion to Viet­nam dur­ing the Pol Pot regime, after which they re­turned to Cam­bo­dia in the 1980s, with- out doc­u­men­ta­tion,” she said via email yes­ter­day.

The 1954 laws were re­pealed and re­placed by stricter na­tion­al­ity laws in 1996, but Nguyen said this should not retroac­tively re­voke cit­i­zen­ship.

“Upon their re­turn to Cam­bo­dia, their home­land, they were con­sid­ered by the gov­ern­ment as ‘il­le­gal im­mi­grants’ and with­out a means to prove their pre­vi­ous civil sta­tus in Cam­bo­dia, they live in limbo,” she said.

Noun Chan­thou, a 58-yearold eth­nic Viet­namese res­i­dent of Ph­nom Penh’s Meanchey dis­trict, is one of those in limbo. Chan­thou, whose Viet­namse name is Dav Thhy Thoung, says she has no of­fi­cial doc­u­ments from Cam­bo­dia or Viet­nam, de­spite liv­ing in the King­dom for more than 30 years.

“We can­not get a pass­port be­cause we did not have doc­u­ments . . . My other three chil­dren who were born here were just given mi­grant [doc­u­ments] . . . I can­not go visit my daugh­ter in Malaysia be­cause I don’t have a pass­port,” she ex­plained.

Regional an­a­lyst Carl Thayer said Viet­nam was un­likely to take a strong stand against Cam­bo­dia, but will do what it can to pre­serve eth­nic Viet­namese com­mu­ni­ties in the King­dom.

“It is in Viet­namese in­ter­est to have a res­i­dent Viet­namese com­mu­nity in Cam­bo­dia,” he said, ex­plain­ing that it “binds” the two na­tions and acts as a “con­duit for bi­lat­eral re­la­tions”.

On Saturday, Billy Tai, an in­de­pen­dent hu­man rights and le­gal con­sul­tant, said the is­sue of “state­less­ness” for eth­nic Viet­namese in Cam­bo­dia is on­go­ing. He also said claims that eth­nic Viet­namese are truly il­le­gal im­mi­grants is “eer­ily sim­i­lar” to rhetoric used against the Ro­hingyas in Myan­mar.

Tai added that Cam­bo­dia is not a sig­na­tory to the 1954 UN Con­ven­tion on State­less­ness, but said the con­ven­tion has ar­guably ac­quired “cus­tom­ary in­ter­na­tional law sta­tus”.

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