News / Asia

In Cambodia, Immigrant's Death Sparks Reform Debate

Cambodian rights workers are calling on the government to reform its immigration policies following the mob beating death of a Vietnamese man.
Activists say the death of Nguyen Van Chyen, who was killed in Phnom Penh following a traffic accident last month, underscores an underlying problem of racism in Cambodia.
Some analysts say immigration reform could help reduce tensions and dampen anti-Vietnamese sentiment.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for the rights group Licado, told VOA's Khmer service he agrees that better immigration enforcement is key.
“In order to prevent problems, I think Cambodia has to strengthen law enforcement, especially in immigration law and laws on nationality,” he said. "In order to be naturalized as a Cambodian, a foreigner should be required to learn the Khmer language and understand Cambodia’s culture."
Chea Vannath, an independent analyst, told the Khmer service that the enforcement of immigration will reduce the problems.
“So, until Cambodia takes the actions, then we can control the people feeling," she said. "Meaning that [immigrants] come, no matter what nationality, they live in Cambodia legally."
One point of contention is the use of the Khmer word "yuon," which the crowd shouted ahead of Nguyen Van Chyen's beating death. Am Sam Ath said the word is customary, though not necessarily racist.
Not everyone agrees, with many saying the word is a slur for Vietnamese people.
The distinction is important, said Keat Chantharith, a spokesman for the national police and a ruling party supporter, because the word is used by leaders of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
He accuses Sam Rainsy's party of using the word to stoke anti-Vietnamese sentiment for political gain.
“In fact, immigration police and the national police are trying hard to fulfill their work in immigration,” he said. “They have pushed law enforcement, registration work and management work for immigrants.”
Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the Rescue Party, denies the allegations, saying the opposition is merely pushing for better immigration enforcement and does not endorse violence.
“The CPP has not taken action on the issues and has been indulgent,” he said.
Vietnamese troops ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and began a decade-long occupation of the country. There have been sporadic reports of violence against Vietnamese in Cambodia in the past two decades.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.

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Comment Sorting
by: Alan Smith from: Florida
March 20, 2014 11:05 AM
What happened to the khmer people is discreminated and executed by vietnamese for years and is still going on now. Why no one say anything about it? They killed the monks, innocent khmer krom people...
In Response

by: Jarrod Brown from: Hawai'i
March 21, 2014 3:16 PM
It seems you are being selective here, Alan, and giving a clear red herring fallacy. You are ignoring the anti-Vietnamese pogroms under Lon Nol in Phnom Penh, the execution of ethnic Vietnamese (and Chams) under the Khmer Rouge, and the Khmer Rouge incursions. You are also ignoring the Khmer Rouge incursions into Vietnam like the massacre of Ba Chuc. However, these incidents of violence and the present day discrimination faced by the Khmer Kron in Vietnam are irrelavent to whether ethnic Vietnamese born and raised in Cambodia should have citizenship or be subjected to violence in the present. A red herring is an informal fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. I think your comment is an example of this sort of informal fallacy.

by: Jarrod Brown from: Hawaii
March 20, 2014 1:40 AM
Nguyen Van Chyen he was not an immigrant. He was born in Cambodia and lived his entire life in Cambodia according to the interview given by his ethnic Khmer wife. Many ethnic Vietnamese have spent there entire life in Cambodia but are often seen as "immigrants" when in fact they are and should be considered Cambodian citizens.
In Response

by: Jarrod Brown from: Hawai'i
March 21, 2014 2:41 PM
Aren't the Jarai the same? It seems to me, Asher, you are confusing the Khmer ethnicity with the nation-state of Cambodia. Nguyen Van Chyen, like many ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia, was born there, spoke fluent Khmer and had a Khmer wife. Khmers are not the only people in Cambodia, and wishing to maintain one's cultural identity does not seem a reason to deny citizenship.
In Response

by: Asher Black from: Sydney
March 20, 2014 11:44 PM
Yes Jarrod, ethnic Vietnamese should be considered Cambodian citizens. Except they do not self-identify that way, they live in Vietnamese-dominated areas and send their children to Vietnamese-language schools. Why would they want to consider themselves Cambodian when the Vietnamese school curriculum teaches their youth that Cambodia is a poorer and more backward country?

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