The International Observatory on Statelessness


Vietnam hosts an estimated 9,500 stateless ethnic Chinese Cambodians. In the 1970s, tens of thousands of Cambodians sought refuge in Vietnam from the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge. By the early 1990s, most of these refugees had returned to Cambodia, with a small number resettled to third countries, but the Chinese Cambodians remained. Approximately 2,300 have resided in four camps in Binh Duong and Binh Phuoc Provinces and Ho Chi Minh City since the 1980s. The rest live mostly in and around Ho Chi Minh City.

In 2006, UNHCR proposed to facilitate three-way discussions with the Vietnamese and Cambodian governments to reach a durable solution for this population. Vietnam’s Prime Minister promised to begin naturalizing them in 2007 and, in November, the Government agreed to waive all fees (about US$200 per person), but postponed the process until 2008. Stateless Chinese Cambodians (especially the younger generation) have encountered obstacles registering births and marriages, accessing education and free health care, seeking employment, and traveling abroad, especially to visit relatives back in Cambodia.

According to UNHCR, an estimated 3,000 women in Vietnam, formerly married to Taiwanese husbands, have been left in a stateless limbo after their divorces. The women were required to give up Vietnamese nationality to become Chinese citizens at the time of their marriage. When the marriage failed, they returned to Vietnam and gave up their Chinese nationality in an attempt to restore their Vietnamese citizenship.

Their children, who often hold only Chinese nationality and have never previously been Vietnamese nationals, are ineligible to enter publicly-supported schools in Vietnam.