Tackling Vietnamese Migrants in Cambodia

25 January 2015

PHNOM PHENH (Khmer Times) – The issue of Cambodia’s ethnic Vietnamese community has been highly politicized by different political groups. It has risen to the top of the political agenda in contemporary Cambodian politics and become the subject of a political game. Although it looks ugly, especially within the context of regional cooperation, it serves the political purposes of certain political groups.
The opposition party has consistently played this card and effectively challenged the legitimacy of the ruling party in its efforts to accumulate political scores. It directly attacks the foundation of the legitimacy of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party(CPP): the toppling of the Khmer Rouge regime with the support from Vietnam.
Vietnam threat perception is very much orchestrated by the opposition party and the nationalist movement in Cambodia. It created a new big wave of anti-Vietnamese sentiment over the last few years. Such threat perception is counterproductive to good neighbor relations and the Asean Community building efforts.
It is therefore necessary to move from politicization of the issue toward evidence-based and solutions-oriented dialogue. It needs to distinguish between ethnic minority groups who have lived in the Kingdom for a long time, and foreign migrants who recently moved to Cambodia to find opportunities.
First, there is a need for academic and policy research on all ethnic groups in Cambodia in order to better understand their livelihood, cultural identity, social structure, and their contribution to national development and collective identity construction. Cambodia needs to build a harmonious society for long-term peace and prosperity.
Vietnamese Cambodians constitute the largest ethnic minority in the Kingdom. They have lived and integrated themselves into Cambodian society since the 17th century. Similar to other ethnic groups, ethnic Vietnamese have significantly contributed to Cambodia’s economy and society. There is no reason to be afraid of this ethnic group. The issue however arises from the recent flow of Vietnamese migrants to the country.
With regard to the increasing number of temporary Vietnamese migrants, more scientific research should be conducted to understand the driving forces, impacts, and characteristics of these migrant workers. Based on this, policy recommendations can be developed to reduce negative impacts of immigration and determine practical ways to transform foreign migrants into a source of national development.
Second, there is a need to strengthen institutional capacity, facilitate inter-ministerial coordination, and promote multi-partnership to deal with illegal migration. For instance, in the recent national census raids, more than 1,000 illegal Vietnamese migrants were deported. This was a positive initial step in governing foreign migrants in the Kingdom.
Third, bilateral cooperation between Cambodia and Vietnam in dealing with migration issue is essential. They need to work closely together to strengthen cross-border control and cooperation in order to prevent the flow of illegal migration and human trafficking.
Both Vietnam and Cambodia should encourage more investment and job creation in border areas. It can help reduce the flow of illegal migration. The implementation of development projects in the Cambodia-Lao PDR-Vietnam Development Triangle will significantly reduce poverty along the border areas.
Last, there is a need for holistic approach towards cross border migration based on the principles of national and international laws, in line with regional cooperation and integration projects and national development and poverty reduction. If well managed, regional migration would positively contribute to national and regional development and community building.

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