International Humane Missions

Ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia face discrimination

That he speaks thinks and dreams in Khmer, the official language of Cambodia, is nothing unusual for Liv Yang Bin, an ethnic Vietnamese man whose great-grandparents settled generations earlier in the Trouy Sla commune, about 50km south of the capital, Phnom Penh.

“We are all Cambodians here. But the Khmer families, own land or run shops. They live in the front of the village; we live here in the back,” said the 66-year-old, whose community depends on fishing.

About 5 percent of Cambodia’s 15 million people are ethnic Vietnamese. Like Liv, most have lived here for generations and identify themselves as Cambodian, yet they do not hold citizenship and are barred from access to basic rights, according to activists.

“I get about 10,000 riels [about US$2.50] a day from fishing. It’s not a lot of money; being a farmer would be better, but without citizenship, I’m not allowed to own land,” he said.

Liv’s fate, said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, is shared by tens of thousands of ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia.

“We need to address this racism. People are not able to have their true identity on… [their official documents], so it limits their right to own land, their right to vote, and their ability to go to school,” Virak said. A difference must be made between recent Vietnamese immigrants and ethnic Vietnamese who have lived here for generations and should therefore hold the same rights as Khmer Cambodians.

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