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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ghosananda visits refugees on VN border

Ghosananda visits refugees on VN border

T HE Venerable Maha Ghosananda led a team of relief and human rights workers to

the border to see 6,000 ethnic Vietnamese refugees still waiting to return to

their homes since fleeing Khmer Rouge massacres last year.

The refugees

have been living in limbo aboard hundreds of shabby boats on the Cambodian side

of the Bassac river. They have been told by Cambodian immigration officials they

will only be allowed in when a law has been passed ruling on their legal

status.

The National Assembly is likely to debate an immigration law when

it re-opens after the New Year but drafts seen by the Post indicate it may

sidestep the key issue of defining citizenship.

Ghosananda's visiting

party was sponsored by the UNHCR. Protection Officer Guy Janssen said: "We think

it is unacceptable that these people are forced to stay here through no fault of

their own, this is a humanitarian issue, not a political one."

During his

visit Ghosananda also addressed the refugees' fears of the KR.

He

advised: "Be united, and no one can hurt you, I don't think you will be attacked

by the KR if you return. The KR will be overcome."

But refugee Treng Yang

Win was not impressed. He said: "People keep coming to see us, but nothing

changes - we still sit and wait."

Approximately 24,000 ethnic Vietnamese

are estimated to have fled Cambodia, many in their boats, in the wake of the

massacre of 34 villagers at Chnong Kneas on the Tonle Sap on March 10 last year.

Most of them are now on the Vietnamese side of the border, and it is

estimated that at least 15,000 of them wish to return.

The 6,000 refugees

situated on the Cambodian side of the Bassac river are caught in a dilemma, aid

workers said.

The border between Cambodia and Vietnam runs right down

the middle of the river, and all the refugees have to do is row across to the

other bank to Vietnam, where the government, the World Food Program and the Red

Cross are willing to help them.

But they refuse to do so. An agitated

Treng said: "We have lived in Cambodia for generations, we want to go back

legally."

About 100 of the refugees have Cambodian passports, or

documents to prove their residence here before 1975.

Mien Yum Bah, born

in Cambodia in 1927, is one example. His family has 'black books' - photo

identity cards from the 1960s - that not only prove their residence, but also

show that they have paid taxes regularly.

Most other families are fluent

Khmer speakers and say their documents were destroyed during the KR years.

These families only have documents, issued by commune chiefs during the

SOC period, which prove that they have lived here since 1979 - residence

certificates, identity cards, family books, tax receipts or boat registration

papers. Refugees say only 25 persons have no documents.

Cambodian border

guards usually do not allow the refugees up river to fish or collect firewood,

thus most of them have depended on WFP food aid since February.

Licadho

doctors, who regularly visit the refugees, are their only source of medical aid.

But the doctors are over-stretched, and some refugees have died from TB and

diarrhea, including five in the last month.

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