Project: Statelessness Project
Date: 18th-21st May, 2015
Place: Kampong Chhnang Province
Project Officer: Phom Ravy
As part of MIRO’s Statelessness project, MIRO staff went on a four days trip to the Kampong Chnang Province from 18th May through to the 21st May to research the situation regarding legal documentation with communities and the local authorities. The purpose of the trip was to investigate and record the concerns and problems faced by the ethnic Vietnamese communities in the Kampong Chhnang Province, including the impact of the legal status of the community. The trip included stops at two ethnically Vietnamese communities in the province: Chnouk Trou and Phsar Chhnang.
Two MIRO staff members from Phnom Penh, Mr. Noun Sovanrith and Mr. Phom Ravy, one localMIRO staff member, Mr. Torth Kim Sroy, and two MIRO interns, Mr. Khorn Sokheng and Mr. Sam Beckton, participated in the research trip.
MIRO provincial staffs had contacted and informed local authorities, as well the target group, a week before the research trip occurred by Phnom Penh‘s staff. On the first day of arrival in the Kampong Chhnang province, the project officer Mr. Phom Ravy conducted a small meeting with provincial staff talking about the daily work and working plan as well to explain about the research questionnaire to provincial staffs. After the meeting Mr. Torth Kim Sroy, the provincial staff, walked around and showed the Phsar Chhnang community. The next day we started our interview in the Phsar Chhnang community and started by introducing the project’s plan and work to the community by Mr. Phom Ravy. In the end, we got 31 participants to give interviews in Phsar Chhnang by going house by house for a whole day. In the third day of the trip, we went to the second target group as planned, called Chnouk Trou, which was located approximately 30 km away from the Kampong Chhnang town. Due to the way for going to Chnouk Trou was under construction, we spent almost 1 hour by car with around 10 minutes by boat to reach the community. For a whole day we interviewed with 30 ethnic Vietnamese residents include one respondent is police officer by firstly Mr. Phom Ravy and Mr. Noun Sovanith introducing the project’s purpose and our work to those ethnic residents. The people, including the monks, were very happy to give an interview to MIRO’s team. After conducting the interviews, MIRO’s team went to the Police Office in the commune to interview the local police officers. MIRO’s team finally got valuable feedback data from residents as well some important information from the local authorities. By the schedule and plan, MIRO’s team had completed the interviews of 61 participants and of the local authorities. On the last day, before MIRO went back to Phnom Penh, Ravy had met with the Provincial staff and encouraged him of his hard working.
Residents expressed many of their concerns when interviewed by MIRO’s team. These concerns included that the Vietnamese people do not have the same rights as Khmer people. As residents fear arrest and are often subject to threats if they have no money to pay for an immigration letter, because the price is too expensive for them to afford. Most of the community’s residents have no legal documentation, that authorities might not accept their current legal documents (Khmer ID card, family book, etc.), that their children will not have access to education and other future opportunities without an ID or birth certificate, that the immigration paper fee (paid often to local authorities as a bribe) is increasing. To exacerbate financial matters, income from fishing is decreasing due to fish catch yields due to overfishing. These communities are unable to gain help from the Cambodian Government to help alleviate their situation, as the current Government discriminates against them due to their Vietnamese heritage.
Nowadays many ethnic Vietnamese families have left Cambodia to Vietnam because of having no money to pay for an immigration letter. Many of the ethnic Vietnamese people mentioned that they really did not want to live in Vietnam, as they and their families have lived in Cambodia for many generations and their ancestors were from Cambodia. However, due to their living condition is very poor, they cannot pay for the immigration letter fee, so they hope that the Government could discount with the immigration letter fee for them.
All 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 two 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.
All of the community’s members were threatened to pay for immigration letter with a high price while their living condition cannot support to pay, and many families force themselves to leave Cambodia to Vietnam every day. 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 recognise them either and continue the vicious cycle of these communities being stateless.
Challenge of research trip
During our interviews with the ethnic Vietnamese community in Phar Chhnang, the commune policemen came and asked for some information about MIRO’s team, such as our mission letter, ID card, and passport to be recorded. Furthermore, the communities members found it hard to come and give interviews because they had to go to fish for their living condition. As well it was so hard to contact with local authority to get the information and records. For going to Chnouk Trou, it was 30km from Kampong Chhnang town, traveling by Taxi we spent almost 1 hour to get there because the road was under construction and was in a very bad condition. After traveling by road we had to travel by boat to reach the target community.
We found that members of all communities continue to remain open and willing to work with MIRO in order to help support efforts for these communities to have an opportunity to apply for Cambodian citizenship, but the local authorities seem unwilling to support and work with MIRO. Further dates for meeting were established with each community. Using the survey data gathered MIRO should analyse the feedback and gather further legal research on how to best support the needs of these ethnic Vietnamese communities in order to be able to better plan how to undertake its Statelessness project plan.