Sen David and Cameron Wells
Phnom Penh Post
Choav Heng, 56, examines documents from the Vietnamese government regarding his arrest warrant and the resulting violence against his family.
Agroup of 24 ethnic Khmer Krom deported from Thailand earlier this month has resolved to continue seeking government assistance despite being denied refugee status by the UN refugee agency and amid fears that the government may seek to deport them to Vietnam, a rights group advocating on their behalf said Wednesday.
We need safety. i’m afraid the government has a secret plan to deport us.
The group, which has said it fled to Thailand because of persecution and religious repression in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region, was deported to Cambodia on December 5. They arrived Monday at the offices of the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees seeking refugee status and assistance with food and housing.
A UNHCR spokesman confirmed Wednesday that they were unable to help because of a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on December 17 that made issues related to asylum seekers the sole responsibility of the government.
Ang Chanrith, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organisation, said the group will continue to write letters to the government and commune chiefs in a bid to garner a response.
“The group now knows the UNHCR’s position,” he said. “They will wait to see if the response letter is negative or positive. If it is positive, they can live [here]. If it is negative, they can take the letter back to the UNHCR and say, ‘Look, we have nowhere to stay."
Ang Chanrith added that the NGOs currently providing shelter for the group could not continue to do so indefinitely, but could only do so “for another one to two months”.
Thach Soong, 49, a Khmer Krom representative for the group, said Wednesday that the group still fears being sent back to Vietnam.
“We need safety. I am afraid the government has a secret plan to deport us.”
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Wednesday that no such plan exists.
“They have enough rights,” he said, adding that as ethnic Khmer Krom, they possess the same general rights as anyone of Khmer ethnicity.
“The government cannot find land and shelter for them because many other citizens do not have land or shelter either. The asylum seekers must realise that the right for asylum is no longer under the authority of the UNHCR,” Khieu Sopheak said.