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