Cambodia: A boat without anchors

20 February 2013

A Boat without Anchors was written by JRS Cambodia's Lyma Nguyen and Christoph Sperfeldt

Phnom Penh, 20 February 2013 — Ethnic Vietnamese minority communities living in Cambodia appear to be stateless, says a report released by JRS Cambodia earlier this year.

While the total population of undocumented ethnic Vietnamese minority people is indefinite, there are an estimated 72,775 people belonging to Vietnamese ethnic groups residing in Cambodia, according to the government’s latest 2010 report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

Though the research focuses on a particular sub-group living in Kampong Chhnang, a floating village on the northeastern border of Tonle Sap Lake, the risk of statelessness faced by ethnic Vietnamese minorities is a widespread phenomenon.

Many ethnic Vietnamese minorities have difficulties accessing citizenship in Cambodia or in Vietnam— despite being born in Cambodia and having lived there for decades.

Previous generations were forced to leave their homes under the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 – 1979, when communities were targeted for persecution “escalating to the level of genocide,” says the report.

The mass deportation of families forced many to lose their legal identity documents, which were left behind when people were forcibly relocated.

“I left with only myself and could not take anything with me,” one interviewee told JRS Cambodia.

The population is currently deprived of the legal right to work, to own a bank account or to buy property and are frequently subject to arbitrary fines and seizure of goods by corrupt officials.

“Access to citizenship documents would noticeably improve the living conditions and daily lives of members of these minority groups,” states JRS Cambodia, who recommend birth registration as the most important step towards future rights.

“Without this… future generations risk becoming entrenched in a perpetual circle of statelessness,” the study concludes.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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