The Vietnamese government has said that Prime Minister Hun Sen pledged yesterday to push for the legal status of ethnic Vietnamese people in Cambodia, even as immigration officials continued to strip the marginalised ethnic group of their legal documents across the country.
Vietnam’s government newswire reported that Hun Sen and his Vietnamese counterpart, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, discussed issues in a “friendly and trustful atmosphere” at the Mekong-Lancang Cooperation Summit.
“Both sides also agreed to actively push the legal status of Cambodian people of Vietnamese origin on the basis of Cambodia’s law and the friendly neighboring relations between the two countries,” the article reads.
But Immigration Department head Sok Phal said he did not know about the discussion, nor did Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Chum Sounry.
Phal maintained that the “illegal” immigrants have two options: “Volunteer to go back”, or pay a 250,000 riel fine (about $62.50) for legal immigrant status.
Last year, Cambodian Immigration officials unveiled a plan to strip “irregular” documents from ethnic Vietnamese, prompting a statement from the Vietnamese government urging that their rights be respected during the process.
In November, immigration officials began revoking documents from ethnic Vietnamese living in Kampong Chhnang. The move was described as a massive human rights violation. The process will eventually be implemented nationwide.
According to Immigration Department Deputy Director Sok Lyhout, the process hasn’t been completed in any province yet.“Our plan is going to take seven months to a year,” explained Lyhout.
“Some provinces are revoking [documents] and some are still introducing [the crackdown] . . . We don’t have figures on how many have been revoked yet,” he said.
Many of the Vietnamese interviewed in Kampong Chhnang and Phnom Penh told The Post they had no other form of documentation, had lived in Cambodia all their lives and had only fled temporarily during the Khmer Rouge regime, which targeted Vietnamese for ethnic cleansing.
Lyhout said the process is taking a long time because some Vietnamese have been reluctant to come forward, and warned that those who don’t cooperate may face deportation.
“If they don’t cooperate with us, we will follow our procedure. We will deport them. We cannot let them do whatever they want,” he said.