All foreign nationals without proper documentation to be in the country have until Nov 5 to present themselves to authorities or risk being tracked down, jailed and deported, government officials said Monday.
An Oct 20 announcement by the recently formed Commission for Monitoring Foreigners states that foreigners have 15 days to complete valid immigration documents before the government begins searching businesses and paying rewards to people who provide information leading to the discovery of illegal immigrants.
Commission Chairman and Minister of Social Affairs Ith Sam Heng confirmed Monday that illegal immigrants who do not turn themselves in before the deadline will be punished according to the Immigration Law—which allows for up to six months imprisonment—and then deported. Those who turn themselves in before the deadline will be deported, officials said.
A reward of 400,000 riel ($104) will be given to people who provide information leading to the arrest of more than five illegal immigrants, according to the announcement. A reward of 200,000 riel ($52) will be offered for five immigrants and less.
Officials said they couldn’t begin to estimate how many illegal immigrants are in Cambodia.
Oum Mean, chief secretary of the commission and director-general of labor at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said the new measures are aimed at all illegal immigrants irrespective of their nationalities. “Anyone who informs the commission about illegal immigrants will be rewarded,” he said.
The latest crackdown follows on the heels of the detention of hundreds of Chinese nationals suspected of being part of a human smuggling operation. A high-ranking government official acknowledged recently that Chinese embassy officials had criticized police for targeting Chinese nationals.
Long Visalo, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also stressed Monday that the new measures will apply to all foreign nationals, including Vietnamese and Westerners.
“If we find illegals we will arrest and send them back to their own country. Our intention is to clean Cambodia,” said Long Visalo. He added he will request a meeting with foreign embassies this week to explain the new measures.
Eva Galabru, director of local human rights group Licadho, said she was surprised at the government’s enthusiasm to offer rewards and expressed concern it could stir sentiment against other ethnic groups.
“Why are rewards being offered for this information and not anything else?” she asked. “This could become a Vietnamese hunt and we know when anti-Vietnamese sentiments are revived the fallout is disastrous.”
Eva Galabru also noted the announcement hasn’t been widely disseminated to the public, making it difficult for people to sort out their status within the time allotted.
Similarly, people who are victims of human trafficking may be prevented from making contact with authorities, she added.
Chea Sophara, first deputy governor of Phnom Penh, said Monday he welcomed the commission’s plan. Authorities will begin searching factories and businesses for illegal immigrants after the Nov 5 deadline, he said.
Ith Sam Heng and Oum Mean said Monday they did not know where the illegal immigrants would be detained before deportation or how much money the commission has in its disposal to reward people with information leading to the arrests of illegal immigrants.
So many Chinese nationals have been detained by Cambodian police in the past two months that it has created a shortage of holding space.
Immigration Police Chief Prok Saroeun also said Monday he hasn’t been informed where the new illegal immigrants will be detained.
Prok Saroeun said two Immigration Police detention centers are filled to capacity and suspected illegal Chinese nationals now are being detained at their arrest sites.
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