kiri vong district, Takeo province – Beneath three blue tarps pitched like makeshift tents in a farmer’s backyard, 43 Khmer Krom who recently crossed the border from Vietnam have set up camp.
Some of the children eating rice Thursday amidst bags of luggage bear cuts from jumping off the back of a trailer on which police unsuccessfully tried to deport 21 of them Wednesday morning.
But though many say they still fear deportation back to Vietnam, things are definitely looking up for the group of 43.
The adults have all found employment with rice farmers in Komnoap commune’s Troeurg Tomlop village, where each family is making three times what they were making in Vietnam—each family now earns $3.75 a day.
“Things are much better than in Vietnam where there was no rice to eat and no clear policy where land was concerned,” said 39-year-old Lam Chang, who claimed local Vietnamese officials had told her that because there was a population increase, she was required to share her property.
“We had to sell half our rice fields in Vietnam,” added Lam Nam, 46. “We have nothing left.”
Many of the groups also cited the rise in tension from recent alleged anti-government demonstrations by Khmer Krom people in Soc Trang and Can Tho provinces as reason for fleeing.
San Savang, director of the Takeo-based Friends of Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association, said no one has been arrested in Vietnam over the protests, although two Khmer Krom monks have been told not to leave their pagodas in Soc Trang.
Kim Kam, 34, said Khmer Krom aren’t allowed to celebrate the full Buddhist ceremonies in Vietnam and that their children cannot learn Khmer at school. He also claimed that some Khmer Krom had been forced to build roads and irrigation systems but never received payment.
Nguyen Son Thuy, counselor at the Vietnamese Embassy, said he was too busy to speak to a reporter, while Cambodian Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment.
District police chief Meas Sophoan said there is nothing abnormal about migrant Khmer Krom crossing the border to work following the harvest.
“This happens every year and it is not a problem to provide them temporary shelter,” he said, adding that police have no plans to deport the group.
San Savang said that in addition to the $5 he has provided each person to support them, there isn’t much more his organization can do.
“We gave them instant noodles and water. We will give them five more boxes of instant noodles today, but then there is no more money left,” he said. “They are on their own.”