Concern for Vietnamese in Cambodia

Ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia face a stateless future. Photo courtesy of Cambodia Daily.

Vietnam has expressed concern at the treatment of tens of thousands of ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia who are being deprived of their Cambodian citizenship.

The Cambodian authorities said last week that some 70,000 Vietnamese are to be declared illegal immigrants even though many were born in the country.

The foreign ministry in Hanoi asked Cambodia to continue granting legal rights to the Vietnamese population, many of whom make a living from fishing around Tonle Sap lake in the heart of the country.

“The ethnic Vietnamese community in Cambodia has had many contributions to the development of Cambodia and helped foster friendly ties between the two countries,” said a foreign ministry spokeswoman in comments quoted by Vietnamese state media.

She said it was important that the ethnic Vietnamese community be allowed to continue with their livelihoods while problems surrounding their legal status is resolved.

The statement made no specific threats but indicated that fair treatment of the Vietnamese community was a factor in good relations between the two countries.

Cambodia’s interior ministry said last week that documents had “improperly” granted citizenship to what it described as Vietnamese immigrants.

It said that 70,000 ethnic Vietnamese would now be regarded as illegal immigrants, although no plans were being made to deport them immediately and they were free to apply for residency with local authorities.

Many Vietnamese migrated to Cambodia during the final years of French rule in Indochina. Some went to escape violent conflict in Vietnam during the wars for independence and national unification.

The Vietnamese community suffered violent attacks and discrimination when Cambodia was engulfed in its own civil war, particularly during the genocidal rule of the ultra nationalistic Khmer Rouge.