At least 6,000 Chinese nationals have left Cambodia each day for a total of around 120,000 departures since the announcement of a ban on online gambling two weeks ago, according to the country’s Interior Ministry, who said the exodus is likely linked to the new measure.
While Chinese nationals continue to flock to Cambodia at a rate of around 5,000 daily for a total of 110,000 new arrivals, the Interior Ministry’s General Department of Immigration spokesman Ath Bony told RFA’s Khmer Service, at least 6,000 have left Cambodia every day since Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the ban on Aug. 18, saying the online gambling industry had been used by foreign criminals to extort money.
“So far, the numbers of those leaving and coming are mostly similar, with the departures slightly more than arrivals,” Ath Bony said Wednesday.
“While we don’t know the exact reason for the Chinese leaving, it might be because of the ban on online gambling, which has forced those who relied on the gaming to return home or move to other countries.”
A recent report by the National Police, under Cambodia’s Ministry of the Interior, said that there are some 250,000 Chinese nationals living in Cambodia, including around 100,000 each in the capital Phnom Penh and Preah Sihanouk province.
Chinese investment has flowed into casinos, hotels, and real estate in Cambodia—particularly in Preah Sihanouk province and its largest town, Sihanoukville, turning the once sleepy seaside town into a flash point for Cambodians concerned about Chinese economic penetration of their country.
Hun Sen’s announcement of the ban on online gambling, which puts an end to the issuance of new licenses and will force all related businesses to close operations by the end of 2019, came days after Cambodian police arrested 127 Chinese nationals in Sihanoukville who were suspected of involvement in an internet scam used to extort funds from Chinese citizens in China.
Beijing has expressed support for the ban, saying China stands ready to work with Cambodia to take effective measures to deepen law enforcement.
Last week, Cambodia’s Interior Ministry, working with Chinese police, arrested 150 Chinese nationals in both Sihanoukville and Svay Rieng province’s town of Bavet, on Cambodia’s border with Vietnam, deporting them to face charges in connection with a scam that China’s official Xinhua news agency said had defrauded more than 10,000 victims in 28 Chinese provinces of around U.S. $14 million.
Ath Bony said Wednesday that the exodus of Chinese migrants, whose home nation does not allow gambling of any kind, would not affect the casino industry or other types of business in Cambodia.
According to the ministry spokesman the number of Chinese nationals living in Cambodia has “increased over the past few months,” although he could not provide a specific figure.
In addition to travel by air, Chinese nationals have mostly entered Cambodia from Thailand through the Poipet checkpoint in Banteay Meanchey province and Cham Yeam checkpoint in neighboring Koh Kong province, as well as from Vietnam through the Bavet checkpoint in Svay Rieng, he said.
Rights groups respond
Soeng Senkaruna of local rights group Adhoc told RFA on Wednesday that his organization had been monitoring the exodus of Chinese nationals out of Cambodia, which he also believes is linked to the shutdown of online gambling.
“We are investigating the reason because few Chinese nationals were leaving until the government’s announcement to ban online gambling, whereupon we immediately saw a mass departure from Cambodia,” he said.
Soeng Senkaruna said that Cambodians are welcoming of foreign nationals, provided they contribute to improving life for everyone in the country.
“The government should ensure that foreign investors who come to Cambodia provide benefits to the Cambodian people and are respectful of their rights. We will not welcome any foreign investors who come to play games, and we only want investment that benefits everyone.”
Sum Chankea, Adhoc’s coordinator for Banteay Meanchey province, told RFA that the number of Chinese nationals living in Poipet had decreased significantly over the past week.
“We don't know how many Chinese people have left Poipet, but we have recently seen a large number of them crossing through the border checkpoint into Thailand,” he said, adding that the exodus had begun at the start of September.
Mass departures of Chinese nationals were also reported by Poipet commune police chief Im Sophearak and Preah Sihanouk provincial police chief Chuon Narin.
RFA was unable to reach the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh or the Chinese Associations in Cambodia for comment on the departures at the time of publishing.
The exodus of Chinese nationals from Cambodia also follows a directive barring self-employed foreigners from working in 10 categories of jobs.
The Aug. 28 order, signed by Minister of Labor and Vocational Training Ith Samheng, prohibits self-employed foreign nationals from working as taxi drivers, barbers, street vendors, massage therapists, shoe shiners, tailors, mechanics, goldsmiths and gem cutters, sculptors of Buddha statues, and producers of Khmer souvenirs or musical instruments.
“The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training will neither grant, nor extend the validity of employment book or card for any foreigners who are running the above-stated businesses,” the minister said in an announcement of the ban.
“Anyone violating this directive will be fined and punished in accordance with the Labor Law and other effective regulations.”
The Interior Ministry’s General Department of Immigration spokesman Ath Bony referred questions about the new ban to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, but RFA was unable to reach Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour for comment.
Heng Sour told the Phnom Penh Post last week that the move will help protect the jobs of Cambodian people and create more employment opportunities in areas where foreigners had previously worked in the 10 categories specified.
Reported and translated by Pheap Aun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.