Cambodia has threatened to deport any Vietnamese “newcomers” unable to produce the required documentation.
The Ministry of Interior says it plans to revoke documentation for about 70,000 people, saying the paperwork was incorrectly issued.
The ethnic Vietnamese community is the main target. Many of its members were born in Cambodia, speak Khmer and have few connections over the eastern border.
And Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said Cambodia should take appropriate measures to guarantee ethnic Vietnamese rights.
“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,” she said in a statement.
Anyone whose documents are confiscated can only stay in Cambodia if they were registered in the 2002 national census, according to Kem Sarin, spokesman at the General Department of Immigration. The government has previously acknowledged the census only reached about 70 per cent of so-called foreigners.
Ethnic Vietnamese settled in what is now Cambodia for hundreds of years, particularly during the 19th- and 20th-century French colonial period.
“There will be no forceful repatriation for those who have their names in the 2002 census but all newcomers have to be sent back,” Kem Sarin said.
Arresting and deporting ethnic Vietnamese residents has become common practice with more than 10,000 people sent across the border since April 2014.
“If they are holding improper documents, we considered them as illegal foreigners who are secretly staying and working in Cambodia,” said Uk Heisela, Cambodia’s most senior immigration investigator.
Large Vietnamese communities congregate around Tonle Sap, the region’s largest freshwater lake and a focal point for agricultural activity.
Many Vietnamese immigrants came when Hanoi occupied most of Cambodia after ousting the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and before the 1990 withdrawal of its forces.
Documents missing a royal decree are now deemed invalid and the holders are being allowed to stay but need to rescind any rights as a Cambodian. Their permit to stay would last for two years and they would need to meet certain criteria to stay on.
“We give them options. They can apply for immigration status or they can return back to their country. But not for the newcomers,” Sarin said.
In parallel with the crisis facing Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, anti-Vietnamese policies are widely popular with the electorate, bringing a low risk of offending voters.
Verdant Tonle Sap has been popular with Vietnamese migrants. Picture credit: Wikimedia