Ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia Left in Limbo Without Citizenship

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A floating village in Kampong Chhnang province, March 18, 2014.
A floating village in Kampong Chhnang province, March 18, 2014.

Ethnic Vietnamese 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, a local minority-rights advocacy group says in a new report, seeking urgent government intervention.

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, according to the report, 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," the Minority Rights Organization (MIRO) said in the report “Limbo on Earth: The Situation of Stateless Ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia."

"This has dire consequences on their access to healthcare, education, justice in court, social security, freedom of movement, transfer of assets, and housing," it said, citing a case study in Cambodia's central Kampong Chhnang province covering about 5,000 ethnic Vietnamese who were born in Cambodia.

It expressed the hope that the ethnic Vietnamese claim to citizenship and nationality "will not be drowned out by the expressions of racism in Cambodia," lamenting that anti-Vietnamese sentiments are on the rise in the country.

It referred to several recent incidents of violent assaults on ethnic Vietnamese and their properties which it said "give cause for grave concern."

Viewed as 'illegal immigrants' by politicians and people

The report said ethnic Vietnamese minorities are at present regarded as “legal immigrants” or “foreign residents” by the Cambodian authorities and as “illegal immigrants” by politicians and the people of Cambodia.

It said that as the status of all those born after 1996 complies with the procedure provided in the 1996 Law on Nationality, at least the young ethnic Vietnamese should be granted citizenship.

"It is of paramount importance to act upon these issues, as the problems will only exacerbate and intensify if not solved in the near future," the report said.

MIRO official Ang Chanrith said his organization feels it is particularly important for the ethnic Vietnamese children to be registered, as this is the only way they can enjoy other fundamental human rights, such as education.

"We published the report so that ethnic Vietnamese children can be allowed to have citizenship and can pursue their education and there is no discrimination and racial hatred and violence," he said.

The report also said discrimination against the ethnic Vietnamese is used as a "tool" in political campaigns of Cambodian politicians.

"During every election event in Cambodia, the Vietnamese have traditionally been the target for political discrimination, attacked by politicians and used as scapegoats in order for the politicians to gain support and votes for their political parties."

'Derogatory slurs'

Opposition party leaders and their supporters, the report said, have "severely used political rhetoric and derogatory slurs against the Vietnamese in Cambodia, causing the Cambodian public to feel more and more resentment against the ethnic Vietnamese."

The survey in Kampong Chhang showed that almost 90 per cent of the ethnic Vietnamese did not possess birth certificates and identity cards. They had only their immigration cards and resident papers to prove that their residence in Cambodia is legal.

All of them were born in Cambodia and their families have lived in the country for many generations.

Nearly all those interviewed live in floating houses on the Tonle Sap River in Kampong Chhnang. The houses have been erected on an assembly of bamboo poles with barrels attached underneath so that they float on the water.

Usually, the houses have two or three rooms, which have no windows to protect their inhabitants from the rain, nor electricity or bathrooms; the toilets are latrines that open directly into the water.

MIRO said it asked some ethnic majority Khmer people living along the river how they would feel about living on floating houses and that "most of them began laughing and replied that they would be afraid to live there and that this kind of lifestyle was only for the 'Vietnamese'."

It said that the ethnic Vietnamese floating village community was reportedly vulnerable to intimidation and money extortion from authorities such as immigration police, economic police, water traffic police, military police, soldiers, fishing community members, and security guards.

Ang Chanrith said the ethnic Vietnamese have asked the authorities that they be allowed to live inland to prevent pollution in the Tonle Sap River but there has been no decision made yet.

Provincial officials have told RFA's Khmer Service that they are working to resolve the floating village problem.

Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

Comments (15)

Where is your topic concern in this comment now...

There are millions illegal immigration outrageous across the globe,it isn't Cambodia alone,especially the u.s southern region along the U.S and Mexico's border,causes the U.S homeland national security concerning about the widespread of terrorist network coming+others"fence of billions $$ along the border".My u be smart to blame to other countries for discrimination for any illegally alien?,instead to blame to their "NVC"govm't's failure and please don't blame game to the other countries to take care your pple problem"fair,or isn't fair? my friend".Let all of us tell u my friend and how much u learn and know the world history after u turned to 60s old.Man...very countries around the world have their own right to say,to press,to share their opinion,right to defend their pple and country.Man...please review back a little bit about the southeast Asian's countries history,specially in 14,17,19,20th century to today.My friend do u know Cham-Champa country in 14 to 17th century had wiped out from the world map,and by whom country my friend?is called"Annam=Dai-Viet=vietnam as today",and where do their original from?from isolated southern of China mountain tribe and whom provoked rebellion to over throw the Chinese govm't,that why the China govm't fought them"called them as thuggish"and chased them down to the southern of Champa's region and asked Champa's king for asylum there"Pichey city=Hanoi"....years later they thrown the Champa govm't and took over"as north Vietnam=Hanoi".In 19th century they"Viet" used the same tactics directly down to khmer delta called"Kampuchea Krom"by expansion of its new illegal immigration seeking asylum at the same method again...years later they took over Kampuchea krom govm't is called"south Vietnam" with no any countries or any govm'ts say a word at all"shame on u"stop using the word discrimination again and one gonna buy your stupid comment in YouTube anymore",if some illegal alien enter your country or take your house,or your family away from u and u will not gonna say discrimination...and how smart dumbass are u?,sorry man don't try this at home,or your country.Do u see the nvc's illegal migrants boat floating houses across the Tonle Sab lake since the first day of nvc war aggression,war looting and war crimes against humanity"in 1979-1993 to today"before 1979 no any nvc illegally or legally live on the river or lake at all,it was just happened when the nvc's foot soldiers invaded of Cambodia in 1979-1993,and why u don't mind about the word whooooo..."discrimination",man stop use your stupid psycho again.See almost 4 decades they had been lived in the river or lake without pay taxes,tax loophole,tax invasion,money laundering,counterfeit,drug smuggling,illegal activities,mafia network,terrorist,gangs,serial killer,criminal most wanted,illegal business activity,sex,drug,slavery trafficking,Aids,disease,espionage etc etc"that u dumb ass didn't also call as discrimination...shame on u".4 decades from now on that the whole entire country drunk this unsafe drinking water with human wasted and dumped every chemical materials into the lake,and cause disease virus widespread from human to human and from human to animals who all depend on this water resource,and u dumb ass didn't say a word"shame on u man".

May 21, 2019 07:15 PM


Don't be a foul !
We're not against Vietnamese people, we are against Vietnamesezation of Cambodia !
How about millions of native Khmer people in south vietnam, the area took over by the French and given control to the Vietnamese, who speak for their rights ?
The Vietnamese Government are still pushing Cambodian borders, on land and in the sea, don't you forget that !
Don't talk about law with these crocodiles. I like to talk about law when they stop pushing us !
Kaun Khmer.

Apr 18, 2014 04:57 PM


from Dak Lak/Vietnam

This group of Vietnamese people is lucky people thousand times if you compare with Degar people in Central Highdlands of Vietnam.
At least these people are not Cambodianizing , speak their our languages, practice their own culture, and their ways of life on the Cambodian's land!
In the contrast, Degar people being Vietnamize at right the heart of their own land. Not merely their rights of languages, cultural, ways of life was taken away from them they are going to be extinct.
Wake up Cambodian, all about is just what the means of becoming a second citizen.
Don't let yourselve fall into the trap of trik to lose your own country.
If you are being still in doubt, come to Central Higlands of Vietnam and learn the truth about Vietnam government.

Mar 21, 2014 10:37 AM

Anonymous Reader

1. Ang Chanrith did not report the last incidents of many more, that local authorities got kicked out and a journalist got killed when they reported the illegal fishing in the Tonle Sap, where these ethnic Vietnamese lived and MONOPOLIZED the fishery industry.
2. Since 1979, the legal VIETNAMESE breed a few more than 5% up to 20% Vietnamese on Cambodian soil. The cabinet of HUN SEN is 50% Viet and the Ministry of Interior affairs is of 90% Vietnamese descendants. Almost, half of Phnom-Penh speaks Vietnamese and they have Cambodian IDs. The legal Viet migrant left-overs swear allegiance to Vietnam. So, THEY SHOULD be deported to VIETNAM for squatting and illegal fishing in Cambodia.
3. So, this story is nothing more than Vietnamese propaganda to add more fuel to RAISE the Vietnamese in Vietnam to come and outright INVADE CAMBODIA to save the ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia.

ONCE AGAIN, RFA plays the RACE card without digging the facts and promoting HATE.

Mar 20, 2014 10:55 PM


from Go back home

It's time to revenge. Finally, the Vietnamese are the victims. It usually the opposite in Laos and Cambodia. Soon, the Lao People will follow the Cambodia, revenge to the Vietnamese. Living in the floating houses, why just cross the border and go home. Well, we know, the Vietnamese like to change Cambodia and Laos to West Vietnam, so Cambodia and Laotian People must act to chase the Vietming back.

Mar 20, 2014 10:15 PM

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