A couple of weeks ago, I met a guy out on the new pier at Serendipity Road. He had been living in Kerala for fifteen years, but was now relocating to Sihanoukville because the Indian government has changed its visa laws. He used to come to Sihanoukville in the monsoon season to escape the heavier rains in Kerala and to renew his visa, but now he has to go all the way back to the UK to renew his visa. I forget exactly what the restrictions are, but basically they are intended to dissuade foreigners from staying in the country.
The other night I met a British couple who had been living in Goa for ten years, but had now relocated to Sihanoukville for a similar reason. They told me they knew of six other couples who were doing the same thing. They also mentioned that the Indian government has openly said, “Let them come and spend their money and then make them go home.”
Last week, a friend of mine took a group of 12 expats apartment hunting. All of them had been living in Thailand for years. They were all relocating to Sihanoukville because Thailand was making it harder and harder for them to stay.
Awhile back I overheard a conversation between expats. One of them, an American, was moving to Phnom Penh with his Vietnamese wife and child because, in his words, the Vietnamese were “fuckin’ Commie bureaucrats” and made it too hard for him to renew his visa. His bizarre attitude struck me the hardest, but that’s food for another blog.
Last week my wife heard a story about a 76 year old Australian who was being deported because he had no means to support himself. He had been in this position for 12 years, but only now were the authorities taking action. This was because his Cambodian wife, tired of having him sponge off her family, finally filed for divorce.
Yesterday I breathed a sigh of relief when I renewed my business visa for another year without a hitch, but I’m still wondering how much longer I will be able to do this. I’ve heard that Hun Sen is taking steps to find ways to make older expats leave Cambodia when they start to become a burden on the economy and it is now illegal (or so I’ve been told by some reasonably reliable sources) for foreigners whose income is less than $2500 per month to marry Cambodian women.
I have mixed feelings about all this. Obviously, I have a stake in wanting to remain welcome in Cambodia for as long as I like and I like to believe that since I support a family of 10, most of whom live in my house, that I’m making a contribution to Cambodian society. On the other hand, I’ve seen expats do some atrocious things in this country and many others just huddle together in foreigner run establishments and do little if anything to contribute to the Cambodian economy. When a police officer came to take a photocopy of my visa for his records recently, he was actually surprised that I had one. Most of the foreigners’ visas he looked at had expired ages ago and some didn’t even have passports.
While I’d love to take the moral high ground and say, “Kick the freeloaders out, but let me stay!”, I have to admit that I often have second thoughts about my own right to live in Cambodia indefinitely. While I do spend all of my earnings here, I do not employ Cambodians to any significant degree and arguably have a negative effect on the country’s social cohesion. I’m also aware that many expats contribute far more to their adopted countries than I do and that many others do the best they can and carry their own weight.
Anyway, my opinion matters little. What’s important is the fact that throughout Asia, we westerners are becoming less and less welcome. We have largely brought it upon ourselves and now that our western economies are disintegrating, there is even less reason for them to tolerate us. Interesting, isn’t it? We who come from countries that have problems with migrants from 3rd world countries (talk about “fuckin’ bureaucrats”!) are now starting to be treated like unwelcome refugees in emerging and 3rd world societies. The shoe’s on the other foot and the laces are being tied.