Many Khmer Krom people living in Cambodia struggle to gain proper identification documents—despite the government repeatedly declaring them “automatic citizens”—and face social and economic hardships as a result, according to a new report.
“Citizenship Rights for Khmer Krom in Cambodia,” being released today by the Alliance for Conflict Transformation, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association, describes the disadvantages experienced by the ethnic minority that has been marginalized in both Cambodia and Vietnam.
The group hails from an area in southern Vietnam known as Kampuchea Krom, which previously belonged to Cambodia, but was officially ceded to Vietnam by colonial France in 1949. Although Khmer Krom largely share the same culture, language and religion with Khmers in Cambodia, their Vietnamese-sounding names and accents have made them victims of discrimination in Cambodia, where anti-Vietnamese sentiment remains rampant.
The report is based on interviews conducted last year with 264 Khmer Krom who did not have Cambodian ID cards, 95.7 percent of whom were born outside the country. Vietnam-born Khmer Krom, upon setting up their new lives in Cambodia, are soon confronted with the almost impossible task of proving their origins, the report says.
Across the country, about 20 to 30 percent of all Khmer Krom, out of hundreds of thousands, lack ID cards, which are needed to access basic citizenship rights such as health care, education, land ownership, employment and passports, the report says.
“Many are denied registration for births and marriages without identification cards, resulting in the creation of a generation of people who lack documentation,” it says.
When asked what types of difficulties they faced in Cambodia, 60.6 percent said they were discriminated against on the basis that Khmer Krom were believed to be Vietnamese, while 41.9 percent referred to a lack of official recognition from local authorities as an obstacle.
Thach Sinm, a 41-year-old Khmer Krom resident of Siem Reap City, who has lived in Cambodia for about eight years, said he had struggled to acquire official documentation in Cambodia.
“It’s been many years that I have not had an identification card or family book. Because my family name is Thach, they claimed my nationality is Yuon,” he said, using a sometimes derogatory term for Vietnamese, adding that he has also been unable to register to vote.
Mr. Sinm said he had also been discriminated against by ordinary Cambodians.
“Cambodians always call us ‘Yuon.’ I think they never know much about what the Khmer Krom are,” he said.
Prok May Oudom, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry’s identification department, denied that Khmer Krom were being discriminated against, but said Khmer Krom born outside the country could not receive ID cards.
Siem Reap City police chief Tith Narong also said that only Cambodian-born Khmer Krom were entitled to ID cards, adding that it was an “upper-level” order.
CCHR advocacy director Duch Piseth said the confusion around Khmer Krom citizenship rights was the result of a lack of a legal framework that reflected the government’s stance.
“Unfortunately, the government’s statements that Khmer Krom coming to Cambodia are to be considered Khmer citizens are worth little in practice, as the strict requirements of Cambodian law mean that Khmer Krom face difficulties realizing these rights,” Mr. Piseth said.
“Khmer Krom in Cambodia, who may be born outside the country or lack a residential address, struggle to satisfy the stringent provisions of the laws and regulations governing the issuing of identification cards, which do not take into account the specific needs of this group.”
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