Many Khmers continue to view the Vietnamese with resentment and suspicion. And this has been influenced by the tense history between Cambodia and Vietnam. Periods of wars and immigration between the two countries have led to a significant population of ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia.
According to a 2014 report, it is estimated that nine in ten Vietnamese in Cambodia are undocumented. The Cambodian government attributes that figure to illegal immigration. This attribution overlooks a significant population of Vietnamese in Cambodia today that can be traced to mass immigration that occurred over a century ago during the French rule over Indochina when different laws governed the country. After the French withdrew from Southeast Asia, targeted discrimination of Vietnamese by the Khmer Rouge attempted to purge the existing ethnic Vietnamese population from Cambodia by deportation and execution. Those not executed had their possessions confiscated, including birth certificates and other documentation that proved their citizenship.
Experts say that discrimination is even present today through laws enacted to retroactively block paths to naturalization. The 1996 Law on Nationality supersedes a 1954 law and places additional requirements on non-citizen children born in Cambodia to become naturalized. As per this law, non-citizen parents of the child be born in Cambodia, when formerly only one parent was required to be, before the child can be granted citizenship. Furthermore, those who have had their paperwork confiscated under the Khmer Rouge are unable to have their applications processed, and applicants have no sympathetic authority to appeal it.
As such, the stateless people, the ethnic Vietnamese on Tonle Sap do not have the same protections and privileges as the citizens of Cambodia. They are not allowed to purchase land, their access to education is limited and they are subject to arbitrary taxes and abuse by the local government.