As a part of MIRO’s Statelessness project, MIRO staff went on a four day research trip to Pursat Province from the 19th to the 22st March, 2015. The purpose of the trip was to investigate and record the concerns and problems faced by the ethnic Vietnamese communities in the Pursat Province, including the impact of the legal status of these communities. The trip included stops at three ethnically Vietnamese floating communities: RaingTeul, Koh Ka ak, and Kampong Loung.
Each village MIRO visited was not only a test of endurance, as it sometimes took nearly an hour or 2 hours travel via boat to visit these communities, but it was a wonder. The lake in which the villages were located was beautiful, especially in the evening sunlight. The houses of these Vietnamese fishermen were built of simple aluminum sheets and planks of wood, life is hard as well as it can get hot very here due to the lake reflecting light from the sun and these communities are isolated, meaning it sometimes hard for them to reach certain markets or services, including needed medicine at times. It is amazing though how humans, no matter what environment, can make any place their home, even on this lake and under such conditions.
When MIRO arrived at each community, we established contact with the local leadership. After explaining the goal of MIRO’s statelessness project, MIRO questioned and recorded local leadership and members of the communities on the legal status of the local community and problems they faced. The concerns MIRO recorded was both shocking and showed that even in these simple unique communities, their livelihoods were not as simple as one would expect at first glance.
All three communities’ that were investigated reported the vast majority of their population have no legal documentation and find it difficult to gain access to work on the mainland partly because of it. It was reported that due to a lack of opportunities for them on the mainland, many of them stay within their communities. This has had to direct impacts, firstly reinforce local racism towards the ethnic Vietnamese for staying together, secondly steadily increasing the population of the villages. Thus as a buy product, this has led to an increase to overfishing to help feed the communities and try to earn an income to support families. The scarcity of fish in the area due to overfishing has exacerbated poverty concerns for these communities that have little opportunities for employment elsewhere.
One of the most impacted of these conditions is the children of the community’s. As in terms of education the children need to help their family’s fish in order for them to gain an income as their first priority. However, even when the children have the time to go to school, they are unregistered due to their legal status as not being Cambodian citizens. So they can attend lessons, but they cannot undertake exams or gain any forms of qualifications, thus further limiting job opportunities for them in the future.
The leaders of these communities expressed fears for themselves and their people of further discrimination by the Cambodian Government, even the threat of deportation to Vietnam, which may not recognize them either and continue the vicious cycle of these communities being stateless.
As stated earlier, it is amazing how Humans can make their homes in any environment, but it is also unfortunately amazing how quickly not a house, but a home and community can go through such toils and hardship.These cases are sadly why organizations, like MIRO, still have work in this modern era. After each meeting, MIRO established a time and place for the community to participate in future MIRO activities. This community had the tenacity and determination to build these communities and homes from scratch, it is with this same level of determination that MIRO will fight their corner, for as long as it takes to show the Cambodian justice system one thing. How amazing the determination of Man can make of what seems a drop of water in the ocean, to prove an ocean is but merely an accumulation of drops.