Stateless Vietnamese in Cambodia: A Quest to Regain Citizenship

Collection with 14 media items created by vincenzo floramo

11 Aug 2014 07:47

Thou Yien Son, 61, lives his life on water. His house is a precarious wooden platform tied to a bamboo raft and his income comes from his boat, which he uses to catch fish to sell at the local market. Yien Son doesn't have anything else, not even citizenship. He is one of the 700,000 ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia, a country that considers these individuals as illegal immigrants, despite them having lived in the country for generations.

Most of the ethnic Vietnamese arrived in Cambodia during the French Protectorate (1863- 1953) to work in administrative positions in the countryside. In 1975, Khmer Rouge took power and Vietnamese citizens were forcibly deported to Vietnam or killed. During exile, most of them lost the papers that proved their Cambodian origin. At their return in the 1980's, they were considered as immigrants and became stateless.

Without papers, the ethnic Vietnamese cannot buy land and most of them dwell on floating villages in the Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake. One of those villages is Yien Son's Phum Kandal. “I came back because my grandparents and my parents were born and died here. This is my land”, said Yien Son. He also complained that the Vietnamese are also subjected to arbitrary taxes and extortion from local authorities.

But there is one hope. On the 30th of July The Khmer Rouge Tribunal opened a new case against the top leaders of the regime that will judge, among other crimes, the genocide and deportation of the Vietnamese community in Cambodia. More than 40 ethnic Vietnamese representatives will participate as civil parties and they will try to regain their lost citizenship as reparation. This same tribunal recently condemned Nuon Chea, the second most senior leader in the Khmer Rouge, and Khieu Samphan, head of State, to life prison for crimes against humanity.

Cambodia Vietnam Minorities Khmer Rouges

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A Quest to Regain Citizenship: Statel...
Phum Kandal
By vincenzo floramo
31 Jul 2014

Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia's largest freshwater lake, is home to most of the ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia. They are forced to live on the water as their lack of citizenship means that they are not allowed to buy land.

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A Quest to Regain Citizenship: Statel...
By vincenzo floramo
01 Aug 2014

Young children in the village often wear life jackets to avoid drowning. Many ethnic Vietnamese, living in floating villages, drown because they cannot swim.

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A Quest to Regain Citizenship: Statel...
Phum Kandal
By vincenzo floramo
31 Jul 2014

Without papers, ethnic Vietnamese cannot find jobs on mainland Vietnam. This means that many of them are unemployed or have to face terrible working conditions.

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A Quest to Regain Citizenship: Statel...
Phum Kandal
By vincenzo floramo
01 Aug 2014

Small boats are the main means of transport around the floating villages. Children sometimes use buckets to travel short distances between houses.

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A Quest to Regain Citizenship: Statel...
Phum Kandal
By vincenzo floramo
01 Aug 2014

Every day around 180 students attend this private floating school to learn basic skills on writing and reading Khmer and Vietnamese. Most of them leave the school after one year to start helping their fathers catch fish to provide for their family.

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A Quest to Regain Citizenship: Statel...
Phum Kandal
By vincenzo floramo
01 Aug 2014

Villagers normally work from dawn to late night but they take a rest during the hottest hours of the day.

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A Quest to Regain Citizenship: Statel...
Phum Kandal
By vincenzo floramo
31 Jul 2014

Families in the Vietnamese floating villages normally consist of 4 or 5 members. Different generations of the same family live one next to the other.

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A Quest to Regain Citizenship: Statel...
Phum Kandal
By vincenzo floramo
01 Aug 2014

Thou Yien Son, 61, was born in Kompong Thom, a village located on the mainland. He was deported by the Khmer Rouge in 1975. When he came back in 1983 he was not allowed to buy a house on the mainland and so was forced to move to the water.

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A Quest to Regain Citizenship: Statel...
Phum Kandal
By vincenzo floramo
31 Jul 2014

Yim My was born two months ago on a floating house. Her mother had only a local midwife to assist her during delivery. The family says that they cannot afford to pay the USD 2.5 cost for the registration process for the baby.

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A Quest to Regain Citizenship: Statel...
Phum Kandal
By vincenzo floramo
31 Jul 2014

The contamination of the water in the Tonle Sap, due to inappropriate waste disposal, can lead to disease among the population.

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A Quest to Regain Citizenship: Statel...
Phum Kandal
By vincenzo floramo
31 Jul 2014

Most of the houses in Phum Kandal are wooden platforms floating on bamboo rafts. They usually consist of two small rooms, a kitchen and, sometimes, a latrine that drains directly into the water.

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A Quest to Regain Citizenship: Statel...
Phum Kandal
By vincenzo floramo
31 Jul 2014

Houses are usually connected to a precarious grid hanging of thin sticks a few meters over the water. Some of them just have small batteries for the front-door light.

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A Quest to Regain Citizenship: Statel...
Phum Kandal
By vincenzo floramo
31 Jul 2014

Most of the villagers in the floating villages make their living from fishing. Fish are allowed to grow in the lake for several months, then are caught and prepared to be sold in the market on the mainland.

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A Quest to Regain Citizenship: Statel...
Phum Kandal
By vincenzo floramo
31 Jul 2014

In Phum Kandal there are no shops only small boats that go house to house offering fresh vegetables, bread, cooked food, sweets and small medicines to the inhabitants.