Lack of ID ‘Root Cause’ of Ethnic Vietnamese Problems

A lack of identification papers is the key obstacle preventing ethnic Vietnamese living in Kompong Chhnang province from enjoying the same rights as Khmer citizens, according to a survey released Tuesday.

In the new report, the Minority Rights Organization (MIRO) found that ethnic Vietnamese are often denied identification papers—even when their families have lived in Cambodia for generations. This practice deprives them of access to education and leaves them economically, socially and politically ostracized.

“The importance of having a nationality is still not recognized sufficiently by the Government of Cambodia,” said the report, which focused on a community living in the provincial city’s Phsar Chhnang commune.

The consequences of this deprivation of citizenship include “the poverty of their living conditions, the lack of access to education, the deplorable situations in floating villages on the Tonle Sap river and the denial of participation in an economic, social and political life.”

“The lack of identification papers is the root cause for all other difficulties,” the report added. “It is the most crucial administrative step needed in order to build a protective environment against abuse, violence, exploitation and statelessness.”

Last year, during the national election, Cambodians of Vietnamese descent reported being turned away from polling stations by angry mobs in Kandal province. MIRO’s report found that 97 percent of respondents were turned away when trying to vote because they lacked the proper paperwork.

The report calls on the authorities to ensure that ethnic Vietnamese children have their births recorded, and that both adults and children are afforded a proper legal status and are not deemed immigrants or foreign residents.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said in response to the report that the procedure for Cambodians to obtain an ID card is simple, and that people only need to present a birth certificate when applying for one.

“If they have no certificate, it is under the protection of the Immigration Law,” he added without elaborating.

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