Cambodia’s ministry drafting new immigration law

Border Crossing Cambodia and Vietnam. Photo: Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

PHNOM PENH, Jul 29, 2020, Khmer Times. A ministry working group is drafting a new law aimed to effectively manage immigrants and all foreigners in the Kingdom as Interior Minister Sar Kheng said the current Law on Immigration has many “loopholes and challenges” in its implementation, Khmer Times reported.

The ministry created the working group to study and draft the law early this year, with the new one expected to strengthen the management of immigrants in line with the current situation.

The working group comprising 12 senior officials is led by Ministry Secretary of State Sok Phal, who is the former director-general of the General Department of Immigration.

Speaking during yesterday’s closed-door meeting to review the first draft, which was attended by ministry senior officials, legal experts and representatives of other relevant institutions, Kheng said the current “Law on Immigration” is outdated.

The current law was adopted by the National Assembly in 1994, during the Extraordinary Session of its First Legislature, and aims to administer all foreigners who come to stay in the territory of the Kingdom. It has a total of seven Chapters and 41 Articles.

“The law, which was adopted in 1994, has some loopholes and the implementation of the existing law has encountered problems, which need to be reconsidered,” Kheng said in the minutes of the meeting.

He said the ministry had sent a request for Prime Minister Hun Sen to approve in principle the drafting of the law.

“We also hold meetings with officials from relevant institutions to collect input and must ensure that this law is comprehensive and just in its implementation for the benefit of the entire nation,” Kheng added.

However, he praised the efforts on law enforcement and management of foreigners entering and leaving Cambodia which has been rigorous and successful.

The details of the first draft of the new law have not been made public. General Keo Vanthorn, a spokesman for the General Department of Immigration, said yesterday that drafting the new law is ongoing.

He referred further questions to General Kirth Chantharith, the director-general of the GDI, who could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Following the drafting of the new law, GDI is also strengthening the management of foreigners through the Foreigners Present in Cambodia System (FPCS).

Since early this year, through FPCS records, the authorities have found about 160,000 non-immigrants registered in Cambodia, of whom 110,000 remain in the country.

Mr Hun Sen in 2017 ordered a crackdown on immigrants holding illegal or invalid documents after some of the documents were used to cast votes during previous elections. He also ordered the authorities to take action against persons who forge the documents.

According to a GDI report, since 2017, the authorities have revoked more than 37,400 documents which allowed foreigners to remain in the Kingdom, after finding irregularities in the way they were issued.

The report noted that such documents were confiscated from nearly 70,000 foreigners, including more than 69,700 Vietnamese.

Khun Tharo, a programme manager for the Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (Central), said yesterday he had not seen the draft law but believed it is necessary to amend the Law on Immigration to be relevant for situations now.

“Normally, every law needs to be amended to comply with actual social and economic situations of countries,” he said. “And I think the new law is necessary to ensure national security and legitimacy of the foreigners coming to live and work in Cambodia.”

Tharo said immigration police should strengthen the implementation of the Immigration Law. He noted the law is more applicable to foreigners working in Cambodia.

However, he urged the government to allow civil society organisations and international agencies to provide input to make the new law effective. These include the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UN agencies.

Tharo said he supports action being taken against illegal immigrants as well as foreign fugitives who are hiding in the country.

In a recent report, the Interior Ministry said that since the adoption of the Law on Immigration, the authorities have focused on stopping the illegal entry of foreigners via border checkpoints but did not go after those who had already been living in Cambodia for several years.

“The solution for these foreign immigrants was prolonged or blocked due to political considerations,” the report said.

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