Phnom Penh Police have arrested more than 40 alleged illegal Vietnamese immigrants, most of whom sold corn on the streets of the capital, police said Sunday.
Most of them were arrested Friday and have already been deported to Vietnam, said Hy Pru, deputy municipal police chief. But several Vietnamese corn vendors, who speak Khmer but are suspected of being illegal immigrants, are being held at district police stations while officials investigate them, he added.
The vendors were arrested either because they could not speak Khmer or were unable to produce documents proving they had the right to be in Cambodia, Hy Pru said. The arrests were made in Tuol Kok, Daun Penh, Chamkar Mon and Prampi Makara districts.
The boom in demand for Vietnamese corn in recent months has led to an influx of illegal immigrants eager to take advantage of the new market, Huy Pru added. “The number of illegal Vietnamese selling corn has increased abnormally.”
The arrests were part of an ongoing Interior Ministry campaign to tackle illegal immigration, Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth said. “The arrests were not discriminatory against Vietnamese corn sellers or the selling of Vietnamese corn,” he added.
Cambodian corn vendors interviewed Sunday near Independence Monument said corn from Vietnam has skyrocketed in popularity in recent months. “Customers prefer Vietnamese corn—it is bigger, more delicious and smells better” than corn grown in Cambodia, said vendor Chuon Chinet.
Customers will pay twice the usual price for the Vietnamese variety, Cambodian vendors said.
“Also Vietnamese corn sellers are very competitive. They move around so they can sell more; Cambodians stay in one place,” said Prak Chantha, a vendor from Takeo province.
Kek Galabru, founder of local rights group Licadho, said that Cambodian authorities have the duty to repatriate illegal immigrants.
“In general, in any country, [authorities] should fight against illegal immigrants. They break the law,” she said.
Officials at the Vietnamese Embassy could not be reached for comment.