POLICE in Boeung Tumpun commune have forwarded to their superiors information about a group of ethnic Khmer Krom who say they are fleeing persecution in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region, and a representative of the group said Monday that he was planning to meet today with the commune chief to discuss their plight.
Members of the group – deported on December 5 from Thailand after a failed asylum bid – have been seeking formal recognition of their citizenship since arriving in the Kingdom, but are poor and reportedly running out of food.
The deportees’ status has been uncertain since their arrival, despite repeated requests to the Ministry of Interior and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to formally recognise their citizenship.
Boeung Tumpun commune police officer Tep Bora said the basic identifying information, collected on January 14, was to be sent to Meanchey district police on Monday.
“Last time we got all the information about the group, and now it is being submitted to the police chief to process the legal documents for them,” Tep Bora said.
“We’re doing our work as they requested.”
Five of the original group of 24 have returned to Thailand so far this month in a second bid to gain asylum there, having lost confidence in Cambodia’s ability to help them, group representative Thach Soong said.
Last week, Thach Soong issued a public appeal to Surya Subedi, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, asking him for assistance in ensuring they receive formal permission to settle in the Kingdom permanently.
A sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen in December stipulated that the processing of asylum seekers would become the sole responsibility of the government.
Thach Soong said police briefly visited members of the group on January 22, marking the second time the deportees have been met by the authorities this month.
“We were checked in on briefly by commune police [officer] Taing Sopha last Friday, but I don’t know exactly what this visit was about,” Thach Soong said. “He left quickly after seeing us; there was no talk.”
Without identity cards, Thach Soong said, the deportees, who have been receiving aid from a local NGO, will remain unable to rent property, attend school or seek medical care at hospitals.
In advance of today’s meeting with Thach Soong, Boeung Tumpun commune chief Sous Sarin said Monday that only local police had the authority to give the deportees the documents they need to remain in Cambodia legally.
A Human Rights Watch report released last week reiterated concerns about the government’s processing of Khmer Krom who flee Vietnam and seek refuge in Cambodia.
“While the Cambodian government stated that it considers Khmer Krom (ethnic Khmers from southern Vietnam) who move to Cambodia from Vietnam to be Cambodian citizens, authorities routinely failed to provide protection in the form of political asylum, let alone full citizen’s rights, to many Khmer Krom living in Cambodia,” the report said.