A People in Limbo, many living entirely on the water.
Floating villages spread across the surface of the Mekong River’s waterways, playing host to ethnic Vietnamese whose status in Cambodian society is perpetually adrift.

For the tourists who drive large parts of the country’s economy, Cambodia’s floating villages—where tens of thousands of ethnic Vietnamese live on rafts and houseboats—are a fantasy come to life. Tour guides describe the villages as curious products of an indigenous lifestyle.

 Vieng Yang Nang, lives in the floating village of Chong Koh, where he is a fisherman. 3,908 villagers live on about 750 floating homes in the village

Vieng Yang Nang, lives in the floating village of Chong Koh, where he is a fisherman. 3,908 villagers live on about 750 floating homes in the village

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In fact, the villages are improvised ghettoes to which the country’s largest minority has been unwillingly confined. They are a hangover of the mass killings and forced deportations of the Khmer Rouge era. The vast majority of Cambodia’s ethnic Vietnamese are undocumented, with no recourse to institutions that would allow them medical care, education, or - most crucially - the right to own or live on land. The inability to register births leads to a cycle of statelessness that passes from generation to generation, and leaves villagers vulnerable to random fines, extortion, mob violence, and forced relocation. As Cambodia modernizes, such encroachments are becoming more common.

In Cambodia, where the concepts of nationality and ethnicity are inextricable, members of the ethnic Vietnamese minority are known as “yuon”, a ubiquitous slur that is sometimes translated as “savage.”
This story aim to shed a light on the conditions of some of the most invisible members of the global stateless.

(Text by Ben Mauk for The New York Times)

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