Dozens of Vietnamese families illegally residing in floating homes on the Mekong River in southeastern Cambodia’s Kandal province have urged local authorities to postpone their eviction by eight months so they can sell the fish they are raising and avoid financial ruin.
Provincial authorities announced earlier this month that the 43 families, whose homes are anchored to the bank of the river in Lvea Aem district’s Akrei Khsat commune, just downstream from the capital Phnom Penh, would have until June 22 to vacate the area and take their fish-breeding pens with them.
But the residents of Akrei Khsat, which has come to be known as “Vietnamese Village,” called on them to push back the deadline to February next year when their breeding stocks reach maturity, so that they can sell the fish in the capital and steer clear of thousands of U.S. dollars in losses.
Others said a matter of weeks was not enough time to pull up the roots many of them had established there since 2009.
One Vietnamese woman, who spoke to RFA’s Khmer Service on condition of anonymity, said she would have nowhere to go, if forced to unfasten her home from the bank of the Mekong and float downstream.
“I moved from Vietnam [to Cambodia] more than 20 years ago and I have lived here for more than 10 years,” she said, noting that the order had not specified if the families would be sent back to Vietnam or simply relocated to another area in Cambodia.
Lvea Aem district chief Sroeung Teuy, who is ethnic Vietnamese, also expressed frustration with the order to evict the families.
“All 43 Vietnamese families living in these floating houses have received booklets recognizing them as district residents, which were issued by the district authorities,” he said.
“When they first came to live here, the authorities allowed them to stay, but now [the authorities] are suddenly chasing them out.”
The order to vacate states that “foreigners” and others “living anarchically” around the Akrei Khsat ferry terminal, which connects the capital to Kandal province, must leave by next week, and that “provincial joint forces” will remove any remaining structures by June 25.
Reason for eviction
Kandal provincial governor Mao Phearun told RFA that the Vietnamese families living in floating houses “lack legal [residency] documents, leaving the authorities no choice but to implement Cambodia’s immigrant law” and evict them.
However, the Cambodia Daily also cited local authorities as saying that the families had been polluting the river with their fish farms and were also being forced to move because their homes constituted a blight on the aesthetics of the ferry terminal.
More than 160 additional Vietnamese families who have made their homes on land in the same commune have not been told to leave, though it was unclear why they had not been included in the order.
Housing authority officials suggested to RFA that Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit investigate the situation in Akrei Khsat to ensure that local authorities had not been taking bribes to grant residency permits to Vietnamese families.
The Cambodia Daily cited a former Vietnamese resident of the commune who had left since the eviction order was given as saying he and others had been subject to irregular bouts of extortion from local officials, including police officers asking for “donations.”
An estimated five percent of Cambodia's 15 million-strong population is thought to be of Vietnamese ethnicity, making the group the largest ethnic minority in the country.
Many ethnic Vietnamese once possessed Cambodian citizenship or legal residence, but were kicked out of the country when the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975, while thousands of those who stayed behind were systematically killed.
The regime was removed from power following a Vietnamese invasion 1979, but hundreds of thousands of ethnic-Vietnamese who returned to their homeland are seen as immigrants.
Reported by Sireymuny for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.