Suddenly or intentionally meeting my compatriots in Sihanoukville province, Cambodia, I always come across low notes about the identity and life of Vietnamese people in a foreign land.
Many high-rises in Sihanoukville city are unfinished due to the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic
Those are all problems that are not easy to be solved overnight. However, hopes have been cherished…
It took us only nearly 2 hours to go from Phnom Penh to the deep-water port city of Sihanoukville – the capital of Sihanoukville, a southwestern province of Cambodia bordering the Gulf of Thailand, right next to Phu Quoc island of Vietnam.
The locality is also known as Preah Sihanouk in honor of the late King Norodom Sihanouk – who initiated the construction of Sihanoukville urban area in parallel with Sihanoukville port - Cambodia's only deep-water port as from 1955.
As soon as arriving in Sihanoukville, I immediately saw a sprawling construction site with dense high-rises put into use or left unfinished with construction machines.
Later, I heard from staff members of the Consulate General of Vietnam in Sihanoukville that after China had invested in massive building of hotels, casinos, high-rises, restaurants, etc., the city changed almost completely.
At its peak, tens of thousands of foreigners went to Sihanoukville for investment, gambling, and work, while pitfalls always lay in wait, especially from "easy work, high salary" scams.
However, after the city authorities had conducted “pilot crack-down” on illegal casinos, brutal torture of laborers, including many Vietnamese, reduced. Many of them attempted to return to the home countries for creepy anxieties caused by labor exploitation and torture for failing to meet quotas and have enough ransom for their release.
Since the beginning of 2021, the Consulate General of Vietnam in Sihanoukville has coordinated with Cambodian authorities to inspect and take hundreds of people out of illegal working facilities.
However, there remain a lot of victims, and rescue is not always easy, especially when the flow of illegal labor from Vietnam to Cambodia is too large.
Wish for return
Thai Ba Y, leader of a Vietnamese "rescuing" team, talks about the times he helped his compatriots
In the face of their compatriots subjected to hard labor and bad treatment, many Vietnamese people have set up their own "rescue" groups and publicized hotlines on their personal Facebook pages for laborers to make contact when needing support and rescue.
A typical example is Thai Ba Y, Vice Chairman cum General Secretary of the Vietnamese Association in Sihanoukville.
Y was originally a physician in the Vietnamese volunteer army going to Cambodia in February 1985 to accompany the Cambodian liberation army.
In 1989, when the volunteer army returned to Vietnam, Y stayed in Cambodia to open general clinics in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
Y said for having the general clinics and ambulances, he can provide great support for his compatriots.
When someone contacts him, he and the Vietnamese Association in Sihanoukville will try to support and rescue them. First aid and treatment of brutally-tortured workers often take place.
Some people were even thrown to landfills or a forest’s edge and found by local people. After having been contacted, Y and his compatriots came and took them to the clinics for first aid and treatment before finding a way for them to return home.
Fortunately, since the government’s crack-down on swindle rings, workers have massively fled from the “hells” and been enabled to return to their homeland.
However, many Vietnamese in Sihanoukville do not have any papers proving that they are Vietnamese and are not allowed to be naturalized in Cambodia. They are truly “second-class citizens”.
Tran Van Nam, Chairman of the Vietnamese Association in Sihanoukville, said there are nearly 700 Vietnamese households with about 1,700 - 1,800 people. They mainly support themselves by ordinary occupation with neither big businesses nor poor households.
Thanks to the local government’s indiscrimination, they do not face any difficulties in work and daily life. Nonetheless, it will take at least two more years for the first Vietnamese to be granted Cambodian citizenship.
Most of elderly people have already been legalized, so there is no difficulty at all. The important thing is that the younger generation will strive to become Cambodian citizens and overseas Vietnamese and properly return to their fatherland of Vietnam whenever there is a need, especially on reunion occasions like Tet (Lunar New Year).
NGUYEN TRI THUC