A group of 17 families protested against local authorities after officials included them on a list of Vietnamese immigrants – despite the fact that they were Cambodian by birth.

The 17 families from the Chak Angre Krom commune in Phnom Penh said district authorities have refused to provide them with documentation because the Immigration Department has them on a list of Vietnamese immigrants, The Phnom Penh Post reported.

However, the village and commune chiefs, as well as the commune police chief, all identified the families as Cambodian. Kheang Chheng Nath, 37, said she has lived in the commune for two decades and holds a residency certificate, an identity card as well as a voting card.

She said she only found out about the blunder in 2018 when her child needed to prepare her documents for school. District authorities asked her to verify her papers at the police station, only to be re-directed to the Immigration Department to get more documents.

Local chief Hor Yiev stated that the families are indeed Cambodian and he has known them since their ancestors’ generation.

Officials said the decision to include people on the immigrant list was made by the immigration police. The Immigration Department did not comment on the issue, but a spokesperson clarified the situation.

Keo Sarin, the spokesperson, said the names were put on the list after a background check and added that the department was going through a campaign to seize irregular documents held by foreigners.

Many Vietnamese who had lived in Cambodia for generations face similar levels of discrimination.