Appealing human rights for Vietnamese Cambodians!


At the time, human rights has attracted more and more concerns from international community, part of Vietnamese people who are living in Cambodia have been suffered from unfair treatments but received little attention. Vietnamese Cambodians refer to ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia. They mostly reside in southeastern parts Cambodia bordering Vietnam or on boathouses in the Tonlé Sap lake and Mekong rivers.
Vietnamese Cambodians  who have lived in Cambodia for generations are deprived of citizenship, trapped in poverty, lack access to education, live under deplorable conditions, and are shut out from economic, social, and political life.
About five percent or 750,000 of Cambodia's 15 million people are ethnic Vietnamese, the largest ethnic minority in Cambodia, but most of them are stateless and are consequently deprived of their most fundamental human rights.
The lack of identification papers is the root cause of all other difficulties faced by stateless Vietnamese in Cambodia and due to this lack of identity they face widespread discrimination and exploitation. This has dire consequences on their access to healthcare, education, justice in court, social security, freedom of movement, transfer of assets, and housing.
It is a fact that the ethnic Vietnamese claim to citizenship and nationality would be drowned out by the expressions of racism in Cambodia in context that anti-Vietnamese sentiments are on the rise in the country. Cambodians even call Vietnamese Yuon as an contemptible way. It is a pity if looking back to the past when Vietnam helped Cambodia liberate from one of the most barbarous regime on earth, Khmer Rouge, which caused nearly 2 million deaths in Cambodia. During the Khmer Republic and Khmer Rouge governments in the 1970s, the Vietnamese were targets of mass genocides thousands of Vietnamese were killed and many more sought refuge in Vietnam. Ethnic relations between the Khmers and Vietnamese are poor, and the Vietnamese have been the main target of xenophobic attacks by political parties since the 1990s.
In August 1994, the National Assembly of Cambodia introduced an immigration law which authorizes the deportation of illegal immigrants. The UNHCR perceived the law as targeting Vietnamese migrants in Cambodia, and the Cambodian government later stepped in to assure that no mass deportations of Vietnamese refugees would be implemented. The Khmer Rouge continued to carry out sporadic attacks on Vietnamese civilians until they surrendered in 1999. Ethnic Vietnamese continue to face discrimination from Cambodian society, and encountered physical intimidation from society and government authorities especially during the general elections or when disputes between Cambodia and Vietnam arise.
Now, almost 90% of ethnic Vietnamese are stateless residents of Cambodia, and do not carry citizenship papers such as identity cards or birth certificates. The 1996 Cambodian law on nationality technically permits Vietnamese residents born in Cambodia to take up citizenship, but faced resistance from mid-ranking interior ministry officials who generally refrain from registering Vietnamese residents due to concerns of political implications from opposition parties if citizenship were to be granted. A minority of Vietnamese residents were able to obtain citizenship only after paying bribes to interior ministry officials, or were married to Khmer spouses. The minority of Vietnamese residents who hold citizenship reported of interior ministry officials confiscating their citizenship papers. As a result, the Vietnamese faced legal restrictions from getting access to public healthcare, education, employment and buying land for housing as the majority do not carry Cambodian citizenship. Stateless Vietnamese built floating settlements in-lieu of buying land-based dwellings which require citizenship papers. According to field research carried out by Cambodia's Minority Rights Organization, interior ministry officials would confront Vietnamese fishermen in the Tonle Sap and demand bribes in order to allow them to carry out fishing.
Access to citizenship in Vietnam seems easier. Vietnamese laws recognize as citizens those born to a Vietnamese mother or father and leave the door open to stateless persons living permanently in the country. But most of the stateless Vietnamese here consider Cambodia their homeland and want to stay close to the graves of their ancestors.
The issue of Vietnamese presence in Cambodia has been used as a topic by political parties to shore up electorate support since the 1993 general elections. From Sam Rainsy Party in the 1998 general election to the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in the 2013 elections, the leaders of these parties, like Sam Rainsy and the CNRP’s members always charged that some stateless Vietnamese had bribed state officials to obtain citizenship and the Vietnamese government still maintained political influence over the ruling party, the Cambodian People's Party. They also charged that the presence of Vietnamese in the country were the cause of economic failures, and promises were made to expel the Vietnamese in the situation that they win the elections.
The vast majority of the Vietnamese support the CPP, and those who carry Cambodian citizenship would vote for the party. Vietnamese support for the CPP has mostly driven by strong anti-Vietnamese sentiments from other political parties. Vietnamese who hold Cambodian citizenship have also expressed fear over physical insecurity during election periods, which is most apparent during the 1993 and 2013 elections when Vietnamese civilians faced physical intimidation from the Khmer Rouge and CNRP supporters respectively and have abstained from participating in elections.
          It is urgent that international community, including human rights organizations, together appeal for supports and fair treatments for Vietnamese Cambodians to get a better life./.
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