Undocumented life

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Lacking official documentation, many people living in Ho Chi Minh City lead a hard and frustrating existence

Luu Thi Xuan Phuong's mother died when she was only eight years old.

After her father remarried, she was sent from Ba Ria-Vung Tau to Ho Chi Minh City to work in another family's house.

That's about all she remembers about her childhood.

Now Phuong has no family or personal papers. Without documentation, she was unable to enroll in school and never learned to read or write.

Once, the incense-making factory Phuong works at organized a tour to Da Lat for its employees. But she had to stay at home because she didn't have an ID card.

"I wish I could travel somewhere freely, just once," she said.

Many people in Ho Chi Minh City lack official paperwork and it is extremely difficult for them to obtain a job or get an education.

On Nghiep Thanh recently stepped into Thanh Nien newsroom asking for help. He was trying to obtain a birth certificate for his adopted child to enroll school.

Thanh said the local government refused to issue the child a birth certificate because the adoption confirmation note written by her birth mother was not notarized by a government agency.

The mother used a fake name and Thanh said no one could help him find her.

Nguyen Thi Khanh Mai, a local official, told Thanh to put an ad in three consecutive editions of a newspaper looking for the child's mother.

Mai said the local government would wait for some time. If no one came forward to claim the child, Mai agreed to issue the child a birth certificate and officially recognize Thanh's adoption.

But these cases do not always have such a clear resolution.

Trinh Xuan Hoang, a senior student at HCMC Finance and Marketing University, said his trainee application has been turned down by many firms because he doesn't have an ID card. 

Hoang says he can't get an ID card because of his family's lack of permanent residency registration.

"First, people are surprised when an upcoming graduate does not have ID card," Hoang said. "Then, they don't trust me. Why should an employer trust an applicant without a house, without permanent residency registration and without an ID card like me?"

His parents moved from the Mekong Delta' Ca Mau Province to HCMC in 1980 to scavenge for scrap metal pickers. They gave birth to Hoang nine years later.

They couldn't get him a birth certificate in the city, so they returned to Ca Mau, only to find that they had been erased from the province's citizen record.

Hoang's father fought is a war veteran, so the government issued Hoang a birth certificate as a token of gratitude. Hoang's younger siblings also received birth certificates stating they were born in Ca Mau though they were born in HCMC.

Hoang said his second-hand motorbike was bought under a friend's name and his land-line phone number was subscribed under another name.

And he has to keep on the lookout for traffic police because his lack of ID card makes him ineligible for a driver's license, said the 21-year-old.

Owning a home could provide the family permanent residency status, but that appears to be a long way off.

"Surely, I cannot afford that," Hoang's father To Kien Duc said.

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