Nearly 100 Vietnamese laborers were detained for deportation Tuesday after they were found to be working in the country illegally during a sweep of construction sites on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich island as part of the Interior Ministry’s seemingly arbitrary enforcement of the immigration law.
Led by Major General Uk Heisela, chief of investigations at the ministry’s general department of immigration, more than 40 police officers scoured the sites on Koh Pich, identifying and rounding up 131 Vietnamese and 85 Chinese laborers before inspecting their documents.
All 85 of the Chinese workers were found to have legitimate passports and business visas, saving them from deportation, but were without work permits, which will cost each of them about $125.
Among the Vietnamese, just three had valid passports and visas, while 33 were found to be working on tourist visas and the remaining 95 with no passports at all.
“For the people who do not have passports, they are working in Cambodia illegally and we will make a request to deport them back to their home country,” Maj. Gen. Heisela said, adding that the 33 with tourist visas would be “educated” and asked to return to Vietnam of their own volition.
In August last year, the immigration department began a census of foreigners living in Cambodia and it has since been conducting raids throughout the country —seemingly at random—and deporting those lacking the necessary paperwork.
As police scoured Koh Pich on Tuesday, some armed with AK-47 assault rifles, one officer stopped a foreign reporter and asked him to produce his passport, going on to say that under the law, all foreigners must either carry a passport or a copy of one.
At one construction site, laborers were assembled in a line and asked by police if they were Cambodian. Depending on their accent, they were either set free or put in a van and driven to another site for further scrutiny.
As the Chinese and Vietnamese workers milled about while police collected documents, Maj. Gen. Heisela said that in the first six months of 2015 alone, more than 1,100 illegal immigrants of 33 nationalities had been deported from Cambodia.
He said he could offer no estimate for the total number of foreigners working in the country illegally, however, and provided little insight into the decisions to target certain businesses or communities for raids.
“We have some sources,” he said. “We have officers who go and check on which places [employ] foreigners working here illegally.”
“We do it every day, every day,” he added. “And we will go all through the country, but now we concentrate on Phnom Penh.”