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Cambodia Halts Deportation, Grants Temporary Residency to Stateless Vietnamese

Amidst looming deportations, Cambodian officials have announced plans to offer two-year residency cards to some of the approximately 70,000 ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia without legal status.

Thousands of ethnically Vietnamese in Cambodia had received birth certificates, identity cards, passports, and family books without the requisite citizenship. A crackdown on the “improper” paperwork late last year forced many of the people to surrender their documents, which essentially left them stateless, according to the Phnom Penh Post.

In 2017, Cambodian officials issued fines, arrested, and deported more than 1,880 allegedly illegal immigrants, the vast majority of whom were Vietnamese and Chinese, reports VnExpress. Regarding the people's citizenship, the Department of Immigration spokesman, Keo Vanthorn, explained: “They were supposed to apply a long time ago because they have been migrants for a long time in Cambodia. They never should have received Cambodian documents, because those passports and identity cards are for Cambodians. They need to pay for illegally living there.”

Khmer Rouge tribunal lawyer Lyma Nguyen pushed back, arguing that many of these ethnic Vietnamese have a “legitimate claim to Cambodian citizenship” but simply can’t prove it. “For ethnic Vietnamese who were the descendants of long-term residents of Cambodia, who were born during the Sihanouk Regime, the 1954 Nationality Laws in Cambodia applied, and conferred citizenship to a person born in Cambodia.”

Many of the affected people had been living in Cambodia for generations and only briefly fled during the Khmer Rouge’s persecution of Vietnamese. Their relationship with Vietnam is sometimes minimal. 65-year-old Hong Hay, a resident of Cambodia’s Chong Koh floating village explained, “I don’t know anything about Vietnam, I have no feeling for Vietnam. I only live here.” He has always identified as Cambodian, but in regards to his legal status: “I know only that my parents were born here.”

Cambodia’s vague citizenship laws make the process of receiving proper paperwork a challenge. The current law, drafted in 1996, uses the ethnic term “Khmer” rather than the nationality “Cambodian.” Human rights researcher Christoph Sperfeldt argued that they were written to specifically marginalize ethnic Vietnamese and Chinese populations. Further complicating the situation, most archival records were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge rule, making it difficult to prove long-term residency in Cambodia.

VnExpress reports that the new government policy announced on Monday will involve an application process to prove pre-2012 arrival, but that most were expected to pass. Those granted residency will be able to apply for citizenship after seven years.

[Photo via Cambodia Daily

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