The Perpetual ‘Foreigner’: The Production of Statelessness among Cambodia’s Vietnamese Minority

Christoph Sperfeldt

Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

Building upon ethnographic research conducted since 2008, this paper considers the case of ethnic Vietnamese minority populations residing on floating villages in Cambodia. Members of this group are long-term residents of Cambodia, having been born and raised in the country for generations, with the exception of the period of the Khmer Rouge regime, when they were forcibly deported to Vietnam. Since their return to Cambodia in the early 1980s, individuals from this group have been portrayed by Cambodian authorities and society at large as ‘immigrants’ or ‘foreigners’. This paper examines how discriminatory policies, laws and practices regulate individual and collective identities in Cambodia, while creating categories that determine social inclusion and exclusion. It traces the origins of statelessness among Cambodia’s Vietnamese minority and examines the specific legal and administrative arrangements employed to deny citizenship and produce statelessness.


Christoph Sperfeldt is Senior Research Fellow at the Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness at Melbourne Law School. Prior to this, Christoph was Deputy Director at the Asian International Justice Initiative, a joint program of the East-West Center and the WSD Handa Center for Human Rights and International Justice, Stanford University. From 2007 to 2011, he was Senior Advisor with the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in Cambodia.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

Conference Managers

Please contact the team at Conference Design with any questions regarding the conference.

Photo Credits: Visit Victoria

© 2019 Conference Design Pty Ltd