Interior Ministry sees a danger to Kingdom: Illegal migrants ‘are a security risk’

The Ministry of Interior has branded illegal migrants in the Kingdom as being a “risk to national security” and is cracking down on them following years of inaction due to “political considerations”.

In a recent report, the ministry said that since the Law on Immigration was adopted in 1994, the authorities have focused on stopping the illegal entry of foreigners via border checkpoints but did not go after those who had already been living in Cambodia for several years.

“The solution for these foreign immigrants was prolonged or blocked due to political considerations,” the report said.

“[The Ministry of Interior] now considers that it could not leave this immigrant issues to continue to be a risk to national security, public order and social safety, as well as economic development,” it added.

Ethnic Vietnamese people’s boats dock along the Mekong River in Phnom Penh. KT/Siv Channa

The government has conducted a census of foreigners in the Kingdom a few times in the past, including in 1995 and 2002.

“Since 2014, the Ministry of Interior requested guidelines from the country’s leaders and received high support from Prime Minister Hun Sen to address this issue with determination and responsibility for the national interest,” the report said.

In August 2014, the Interior Ministry’s General Department of Immigration (GDI) also conducted a nationwide census of foreigners.

During this period long-staying illegal migrants were given the chance to apply for permanent resident status.

This amnesty period ended on June 30, 2019, during which 89,786 foreigners or 28,945 families applied for a permanent residency card.

They were from 11 nationalities of whom 89,471 were Vietnamese and the rest were Thai, Lao, Chinese or Myanmar.

Between early 2017 and June 30, 2019, the authorities also revoked 37,436 documents which allowed the foreigners to remain in the Kingdom after finding irregularities in the way they were issued.

The report noted that such documents were confiscated from 69,957 foreigners, including 69,787 Vietnamese.

It said the Ministry of Interior will continue to pay close attention to strictly manage foreign migrants and take preventive measures, including deporting any foreigners who illegally enter the country.

According to the GDI, foreigners sought for crimes committed in their home countries were deported. It said that from 2014 to the end of 2019, it had overseen the deportation of 16,200 foreigners who were involved in online gambling, not having passports, staying on with expired visas and for drug crimes.

The Interior Ministry report noted that the government of the Khmer Republic, which ruled the country from 1970 to 1975, had used martial law to solve the immigration issue and measures taken had “seriously violated human rights, national and international law” as well as the Khmer Rouge regime, which ruled the country from 1975 to 1979, had conducted mass killings, including foreigners.

GDI deputy director general and spokesman General Keo Vanthorn said yesterday that nearly 90,000 foreigners in the country, mostly Vietnamese nationals, have been given permanent residency cards.

He said other immigrants who did not qualify were deported to their own countries.

Gen Vanthorn added that those granted permanent residency can  apply for Cambodian citizenship after seven years.

“Some of them came to our country since the 1980s. In other countries, such as the US and Australia, if they came legally and stayed for a long time like this, they could be granted citizenship after seven years,” he said.

He said the nearly 90,000 migrants currently holding permanent residency cards have to reapply for the status every two years.

The National Assembly in 2018 also approved an amendment to the Law on Nationality as the previous law no longer reflected Cambodia’s social and economic development.

The law also allows punishment for anyone who illegally assists others to obtain Cambodian citizenship and increased the amount of investment required to become eligible for Khmer citizenship. Penalties are as high as 10 years in prison.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng has previously ordered his officials to confiscate invalid immigration documents from foreigners who are working and living in the Kingdom.

“You must increase crackdowns to take back any irregular documents from immigrants who refuse to surrender them to the authority,” he said. “And you must strengthen the monitoring of foreigners and immigrants and take action, based on Cambodian laws, against those who commit crimes.

Vietnam has reportedly requested Cambodia to grant citizenship to Vietnamese people who have been living in the Kingdom for a long time.

During a two-day conference held among the External Relations Committee of the Cambodia, Lao and Vietnam parliament in Vietnam last year, Vietnam had asked the Cambodian government to grant Cambodian citizenship to its people living in the country but the government turned the request down.

“The issues of territory or nationality are very sensitive. If any parties dare to sacrifice those matters, political enemies will accuse us of betraying the nation,” Chheang Vun, chairman of the National Assembly’s Commission on Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation, Information and Media said at that time.

“So, we cannot ignore the stance of the Royal government led by Samdech Techo Hun Sen. He has a strong stance in protecting territorial sovereignty and we cannot give nationality to somebody easily,” he added.

During a telephone conversation between Mr Hun Sen and Vietnamese president Nguyen Phu Trong on Thursday, Mr Nguyen also said he hoped the Cambodian government will create favourable conditions for Vietnamese nationals in the Kingdom.

“As for the issue relating to people of Vietnamese origin in Cambodia, the Party and State leader expressed his hope that Cambodia will continue to create favourable conditions for them to stabilise their lives in the country, thus contributing to the development of Cambodia and enhancing bilateral ties.” said a statement on the Vietnamese embassy’s Facebook page.

Written by Ben Sokhean
Source: Khmer Times
Published on 14 July 2020

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