The authorities’ assault on Chinese nationals suspected of using Cambodia to reach Western nations continued Sunday as 95 more illegals were taken into custody—but officials have run out of space to hold them.
Those apprehended Sunday are being detained under armed guard where they were discovered: at a three-story villa in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district, just outside Phnom Penh.
On Monday afternoon, more than 20 military police lingered around the residence, which was filled with Chinese nationals, only 14 of whom had passports and none of whom had legal visas to be in Cambodia, according to Soth Leng, deputy commander of Kandal provincial military police.
Immigration Police Chief Prok Saroeun said his department’s headquarters near Pochentong Airport and the Municipality’s immigration police bureau in central Phnom Penh are already filled with Chinese nationals arrested in recent weeks.
“The immigration department does not have enough places to keep all those Chinese nationals,” said Prok Saroeun.
Three separate raids this weekend yielded 131 Chinese nationals with inadequate travel documents, bringing the total number plucked from hideouts in the past two months to 610.
In addition to the Kien Svay residence, Chinese nationals are being held at two other Phnom Penh safe houses—a villa behind the Council of Ministers building and the Angkor Hotel.
The illegal immigrants will be kept under guard at their revealed safe houses until police can find alternative locations to detain them, according to Yim Simony, the police chief for Prampi Makara district, where the Angkor Hotel is located.
The bust Sunday was at a residence owned by Colonel Yin Kim Hor, deputy commander of military police in Mondolkiri province, investigators said. Three other hauls of Chinese nationals in the past 10 days have come at homes owned by government officials, including the ex-wife of the minister of rural development, an RCAF colonel, and a Ministry of Interior police officer.
The home owners have said they rent their houses out and do not have knowledge of their tenants’ activities.
Soth Leng, the provincial military police officer, said authorities did not know who brought illegal immigrants to Kien Svay district.
But he said some government officials must be protecting the ringleaders, reiterating assertions made by several prominent government officials.
“The Chinese immigrants have ringleaders with strong support from government officials otherwise they could not run the smuggling operation,” Soth Leng said outside the residence.
Originally, 98 were captured Sunday, but three escaped, police said.
“When we arrived there were 98 Chinese immigrants but during heavy rain Sunday night, three of them escaped,” said Soth Leng.
Separately, 26 Chinese nationals without proper travel documents were put under detention Saturday in a house near the Council of Minister building.
The house is owned by the ex-wife of the Minister for Rural Development Chhim Seak Leng, according to Prampi Makara Police Chief Yim Simony.
The arrest of 10 at the Angkor Hotel came on Friday.
Police arrests of illegal Chinese nationals has spiraled since First Deputy Governor of Phnom Penh Chea Sophara organized a raid Aug 19 and netted 225 immigrants.
The largest mass arrest came Oct 9, when 226 illegal Chinese immigrants were taken into custody from two houses in the Russei Keo district.
Owners of the buildings, RCAF Colonel Om Vicheth and police officer Pa Samardy, later told police they rented the villas to a woman who runs a business in Phnom Penh, Russei Keo District Police Chief Tim Prosar said last week.
Discarded documents belonging to the Chinese obtained Wednesday from the villa of Pa Samardy reconfirm the immigrants intentions to travel on to countries in the West.
One document containing the names of eight Chinese nationals also contained their intended destination countries of Italy and France. Other documents found in the house contained the telephone numbers of “contact” people in Italy and telephone numbers to the US.
Police and military sources say the Chinese pay tens of thousands of dollars in order to reach Western countries and Cambodia is a staging post where they can obtain Chinese and Cambodian passports and travel to other Southeast Asian countries and join other networks to get to Europe, Australia and the US.
No arrests have been made of people coordinating the movements of the hordes of Chinese through Cambodia.