Ho chi minh city – Vietnamese police bused 65 Cambodians from Ho Chi Minh City back to Cambodia on Friday, after arresting them for being in the country illegally, border officials said.
The group, mostly children from Svay Rieng province, is part of a growing population of Cambodians traveling to Vietnam to beg for money.
“We have been sending Cambodian beggars back to Cambodia sometimes as often as once or twice a month,” said Luon Kimkhuon, consul general at the Cambodian consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.
He said that many of the children are trafficked by ring leaders who keep a percentage of money earned from begging. He added that many of the returnees head back to Vietnam after they are released.
Hundreds of Cambodian children are begging in Vietnamese cities, according to Anne Horsley, a project coordinator with the International Organization for Migration.
But she added that a small IOM study of two groups recently repatriated suggested that more children are taken to Vietnam by one or both parents, rather than trafficked by a ringleader. The children generally stay for several months to earn money for their families.
Two children interviewed in Ho Chi Minh City’s Cholon district last week said they were from Svay Rieng’s Kompong Ro district and had been begging on the city’s streets for three weeks.
A definitive picture of the problem is hard to come by, as are statistics about how many of the children are victims of trafficking and how many return to Vietnam after being repatriated, Horsley said. Very little research has focused on the problem, and so most evidence is anecdotal.
Poverty is the main reason children beg, Horsley said. But Hun Neng, the provincial governor in Svay Rieng and the brother of the prime minister, disagreed.
“I went down myself to their houses in Chantrea and Kompong Ro districts,” he said. “They are begging to buy a motorbike or a TV, even though they have plenty of rice to feed them.”
Regardless of motivations, those traveling to Vietnam to beg represent a problem that is only just emerging, especially when compared to those crossing the border into Thailand, where as many has half of the children are trafficked by ringleaders, Horsley said. “The challenge now is to stop it from spreading,” she said.
Efforts to curb the illegal migration need to include educating parents and children, she said. But, she said, they also have to make it easier to prosecute the traffickers.