Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Floating communities receive COVID-19 vaccines after Phnom Penh evictions

The floating homes of mostly ethnic Vietnamese residents evicted from Phnom Penh were blocked in the Mekong at Kandal province’s Leouk Dek district on the Cambodia-Vietnam border, Picture taken on June 28, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
The floating homes of mostly ethnic Vietnamese residents evicted from Phnom Penh were blocked in the Mekong at Kandal province’s Leouk Dek district on the Cambodia-Vietnam border, Picture taken on June 28, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Roughly 170 of the largely ethnic Vietnamese people who were evicted from their floating homes in Phnom Penh to Kandal province’s Loeuk Dek district have now been vaccinated against COVID-19. The Association of Khmer-Vietnamese in Cambodia has estimated that about half of the ethnic Vietnamese living in Cambodia had been vaccinated.

Loeuk Dek district governor Chap Chanvithyea said that authorities have over the past three days administered the first dose of the vaccine to the 171 Vietnamese people who had not already received the vaccine in Phnom Penh. A total of 436 ethnically Vietnamese people live in Ka’am Samnor commune near the border with Vietnam. 

“60 percent of Vietnamese people were vaccinated while they were in Phnom Penh and the remaining 171 has also been vaccinated with the first dose since 18 July,” Chanvithyea said. “Because they are living properly and our principle is to vaccinate people. If they don’t have vaccinations when they are infected [with COVID-19], they can spread in the community,” he said. Although receiving both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine reduces the risk of transmission, it is still possible to transmit the disease after being vaccinated.

Chanvithyea told CamboJA that the community had come to live here in order to raise their fish, and that they would be moving on once their fish had matured enough to sell.

Kandal Provincial Health Department director Kuoy Bunthoeun said that authorities had so far administered the first dose of the vaccine to 99 percent of their target of 599,251 people, saying that they would be finishing the campaign on 26 July. There have been 9,012 people who tested positive of COVID-19 as well as 115 deaths in the province since the virus’ outbreak.

Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophorn told CamboJA that authorities were administering vaccines to all Vietnamese nationals living in Cambodia legally. Many ethnic Vietnamese, including those who have lived in Cambodia for generations, are unable to claim citizenship or legal residency papers.

“They are living here as normally, but living here is far away from the market, so they might move to live with their family and relatives in Cambodia as legal immigrants,” he said. “Except if they are illegal, we can arrest them and send them back to their country.”

Sim Chy, president of the Association of Khmer-Vietnamese in Cambodia, told CamboJA on Thursday that roughly half of the ethnically Vietnamese people living both in floating houses and on land across Cambodia had been vaccinated.

“I received information from my network of officials at the city and in the provinces that 50 percent of Vietnamese people have been vaccinated among more than 100,000 Vietnamese people who live in Cambodia officially,” he said. Chy explained that he did not have figures for the number of ethnic Vietnamese living on and along the rivers, as they were instead registered with local authorities.

Chy claimed that all Vietnamese people living in Phnom Penh had been vaccinated and that the association’s provincial branches were now contacting local authorities on behalf of the Vietnamese community in the countryside.

“I received information that Vietnamese people in Kandal province who moved from Phnom Penh have been vaccinated already,” he said.

He said that he and his officials had visited Vietnamese people who were moved from Phnom Penh to Ka’am Samnor commune in Kandal province once in June after Phnom Penh authorities evicted the largely ethnic Vietnamese people living in floating houses on the river on June 12.

“On behalf of the association, I thank the Cambodian government for allowing Vietnamese people who live in Cambodia to be officially vaccinated to prevent the infection of COVID-19,” he said.

Chy said that between 30 and 40 percent of Vietnamese people living in Cambodia were living in Phnom Penh, Kandal and Kampong Chhnang provinces. He added that many of the communities who had been expelled from Phnom Penh were being allowed to live in their new settlements indefinitely, and that they would continue to raise their fish there until local authorities order them to move on again.

“Our association can just appeal to all humanitarians to help them, and we just provide them with some equipment and some food when they meet with difficulty,” he said.

Yang Thi Neu, an ethnic Vietnamese woman living in a floating house who had been forced to move from the capital to Ka’am Samnor commune, said that she had received the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine while staying near Phsar Thom Thmey Tuol Sangke, called Sam Han market, in Phnom Penh.

“The authorities announced and gave us papers to register for getting the vaccine, and I also got the paper to register for the vaccine,” she said. “I am afraid of the COVID-19 outbreak — it’s affecting my family income and livelihood, but luckily I was already vaccinated before moving to Ka’am Samnor commune, and I still prevent it as well.”

Nhuveng Yang Hong, who lives in a floating house in Prek Pnov district’s Samroang commune, Phnom Penh, said that he had also received his second dose of the vaccine while living in Prek Pnov commune before being moved to Samroang commune near the border of Kandal province.

“I heard from my friend that there was a vaccine campaign at Tuol Sangke, and I went there to be inoculated by registering papers over there … but I am still afraid of COVID-19, so I have to protect myself and my family,” he said.

Since being moved to the new location, he said, he was struggling to catch fish to feed his family. In Prek Pnov, he said, there had been more fish, and he had known how to catch and raise them.

“I don’t know how to find income now, and my family is facing an income crisis,” he said. “I have four children, and the oldest works in construction.”

According to the Health Ministry’s report on July 21, 6,334,378 people across Cambodia have already received their first dose of the vaccine and 4,253,792 people have received their second dose.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Health reported 811 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total count to 70,419 since the pandemic began in early 2020. The large majority of these cases have been recorded since February 20, when the ongoing community outbreak began in Cambodia. The ministry has also recorded 62,577 recovered cases and 1,188 deaths from the virus.