Australian Parliamentarian Highlights Ethnic Vietnamese Issues

An Australian lawmaker has called upon his country’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, to address what he said is the mistreatment of ethnic Vietnamese people living in Cambodia.

In letters dated April 7, Chris Hayes, chief whip of the Australian Labor Party, wrote to Ms. Bishop and his own party’s shadow foreign minister, Tanya Plibersek, asking them to take an “active interest” in the matter in the wake of a March report detailing obstacles that prevent ethnic Vietnamese from enjoying the same rights as Khmer citizens.

“The Vietnamese community in my electorate are greatly concerned for the welfare of more than 700,000 ethnic Vietnamese whose fundamental human rights are being ignored,” in Cambodia, Mr. Hayes said.

“The Vietnamese community represents 5 per cent of Cambodia’s total population. Since 2006, there have been an increasing number of reports concerning ethnic Vietnamese being denied access to health care, education, social security, court justice and freedom of movement in Cambodia,” he added.

He said the Australian government and his own party should take note, because of Australia’s “promotion and protection of human rights,” and because Cambodia is beholden to the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, to which it is a signatory.

The report, which was released last month by the Minority Rights Organization, found that a lack of identification papers is the “root cause” of problems facing the ethnic Vietnamese community in Cambodia.

Ms. Bishop’s most recent dealings with Cambodia pertain to a request that some people seeking asylum in Australia would be resettled in Cambodia, instead.

But MIRO’s director, Ang Chanrith, said by telephone on Friday that Ms. Bishop should consider the fact that there are many people already existing in a stateless limbo in Cambodia, and that it would be wrong to send more people here only to experience the same. “[Ms. Bishop] should address statelessness in Cambodia before sending their own refugees to Cambodia,” he said.

“The Cambodian government hasn’t yet solved the problem of statelessness in Cambodia, so how can they accept more people in Cambodia? People who are refugees are considered stateless, because they are given certificates, but no ID cards, so it is not easy for them to find a job legally in Cambodia,” he added.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Vietnamese people have their own associations, which keeps them somewhat separated from Cambodian society, and that it was a “sensitive matter” because members of the opposition CNRP “speak against” the Vietnamese.

“Australia could raise the issue if they are interested, but they can’t pressure the Cambodian government to do anything they want,” he said. “We are a sovereign state.”

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