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Identifying the truth: GDI vets ‘immigrant’ complaints over document seizures

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
Immigration police check on Vietnamese immigrants in Koh Kong province. Supplied

The Interior Ministry’s General Department of Immigration has rejected many complaints lodged by people claiming to be “immigrants” whose documents were seized during an ongoing crackdown on foreigners staying illegally in the Kingdom.

Prime Minister Hun Sen in August 2017 ordered a crackdown on immigrants holding illegal or invalid documents. Some of which were used for casting votes during previous elections. Mr Hun Sen also ordered the authorities to take action against persons who forge the documents.

According to a GDI report, since 2017, the authorities have revoked more than 37,400 documents, which allowed the foreigners to remain in the Kingdom, after finding irregularities in the way they were issued.

The report noted that such documents were confiscated from nearly 70,000 foreigners, including more than 69,700 Vietnamese.

General Kirth Chantharith, GDI director-general, said recently that in order to provide transparency in the process of seizing illegal documents held by foreigners, the GDI allows them to file complaints.

“During the campaigns to confiscate irregular documents being used by foreigners living in the country, if we find  no specific family records, we need to confiscate their documents,” he said.  “However ,we allow them to lodge complaints because we understand that no work can be perfect.”

“We received 113 complaints over document seizures and created a working group to find the truth. We have reviewed the complaints one by one and conducted research on the documents which they had and verified these with the local authorities,” Gen Chantharith added.

“We also interviewed the witnesses and checked their family records. For example, if they said their mothers were foreigners and their fathers were Khmers who had died, we needed to find out about their fathers from people in their home villages,” he said.

Gen Chantharith said the authorities have done their investigation over the complaints and the government had made a decision over about 60 cases while the rest have still not been decided on.

“So far, we have finished investigation for over 60 cases, most of which were rejected. Even though they claimed they are Khmer, we did not recognise them because they did not have enough proof,” he said. “However, in a few cases, we requested the ministry to reconsider their complaint.”

GDI officials check on Vietnamese immigrants in Koh Kong province. Supplied

“We investigated these cases in detail because it [the matter] is very sensitive. We make decisions based on the truth,” Gen Chantharith added.

According to a recent Interior Ministry report, since 2014, it has conducted nationwide census of foreigners, during which long-staying illegal migrants were given the chance to apply for permanent resident status.

The report said the amnesty period ended on June 30 last year before which 89,786 foreigners or 28,945 families applied for a permanent residency card. It noted that they were from 11 nationalities of whom 89,471 were Vietnamese.

“We recognised them as immigrants and have been issuing permanent residency cards to them. We plan to end the process soon,” Gen Chantharith said.

According to Lieutenant General Nop Vy, GDI deputy director-general, since the establishment of the department in 2014 up to the end of June this year, Cambodia deported 17,230 foreigners staying in the country illegally, 2,971 of whom were women. They comprised of 104 nationalities who were found to be “illegally working and living” in the Kingdom.

Lt Gen Vy said GDI is currently preparing to deport 93 foreigners from 20 countries in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Preah Sihanouk provinces. He said the department is also strengthening the management of foreigners through the Foreigners Present in Cambodia System (FPCS).

He also noted that as of June, a total of 1,874 foreigners from 45 countries were in Cambodian prisons, 249 of whom were women. He said most of them are Vietnamese (749) and Chinese (727) nationals.

Gen Chantharith said that through FPCS records, the authorities had found about 160,000 non-immigrants registered in Cambodia but only 110,000 still remain in the country.

He also said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only one million foreigners entered Cambodia in the first six months of the year – a drop from the three million who came in during the same period last year.

“In the first three months of this year, we still recorded many foreigners coming into Cambodia, but the number dropped sharply because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gen Chantharith said. “If this situation persists, there could be a drop of 60 to 70 percent for the whole year.”

He said his department is also working hard to manage immigration into the country and urged the landlords to cooperate with the authorities and register foreign tenants.

The FPCS was created late last year and launched in January to record data about foreigners living in and visiting Cambodia. However, the measure has raised some concerns among some foreign residents.

The Ministry of Interior early this month branded illegal migrants in the Kingdom as being a “risk to national security”.

The ministry said that since the Law on Immigration was adopted in 1994, the authorities have focused on stopping the illegal entry of foreigners via border checkpoints but did not go after those who had already been living in Cambodia for several years.

“The solution for these foreign immigrants was prolonged or blocked due to political considerations,” the ministry report said.

During a telephone conversation between Mr Hun Sen and Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong on July 9, Mr Nguyen said he hoped the Cambodian government will create favourable conditions for Vietnamese nationals in the Kingdom.


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