Viet Nam’s steps towards granting citizenship to thousands of former Cambodian refugees makes the country a global leader in ending and preventing statelessness, the United Nations refugee agency said today.
A legacy of the regime of the notorious Cambodian dictator Pol Pot, nearly 2,400 Cambodians are set to receive their citizenship this year, a culmination of five years of cooperation between the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Vietnamese Government.
Most of the former refugees have lived in Viet Nam since 1975, and all speak Vietnamese and have integrated fully.
At a ceremony at the Department of Justice in Ho Chi Minh City last Friday, 287 former refugees living in two former camps run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) received their citizenship certificates.
These documents entitle the Cambodians to all rights of citizenship, including a family registration book that governs all citizens’ interactions with the Government, as well as a Government identification card.
These two documents allow the new citizens to purchases houses, attend universities and get health insurance and pensions. The documents also allow them to do simple things they could not do before, such as owning motorbikes.
Last year, the country passed a law to rectify the situations of thousands of Vietnamese women who married and divorced foreign men and became stateless, with most of them – and their children – attaining citizenship.
“Viet Nam has taken important strides in ending and preventing statelessness,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told reporters in Geneva.
“For people all over the world who have citizenship, it is difficult to understand what it means to exist in the twilight of statelessness, deprived of the very right to have rights,” Mr. Edwards said.
UNHCR estimates that 12 million people around the world are currently stateless.
The agency expressed hope today that Viet Nam’s actions “will serve as an example to other countries that these issues can be successfully tackled and solved,” its spokesperson said.