The UN refugee agency has approached the government to find out what has happened
to three people who disappeared while under its protection in Phnom Penh. The three
were reportedly deported to their home countries, which if true would be a flagrant
breach of Cambodia's international legal obligations.
A Vietnamese monk belonging to an outlawed Buddhist sect was reportedly handed back
to Hanoi on July 25. Less than two weeks later a Chinese couple, practitioners of
Falun Gong, were sent back to China. Press reports suggested that all three had UNHCR
'persons of concern' (PoC) status.
Elizabeth Kurtin, UNHCR officer in charge, said the agency could not comment on individual
"Under our normal procedure when we have reason to believe a person of concern
has been deported, we would take appropriate steps [to find out what happened],"
she said. "And if we had information that deportations were taking place, we
would be concerned about the safety of others in the same category."
Under international law the government is obliged to protect PoCs, of whom there
are many in Phnom Penh. That is doubtless a concern to UNHCR as the Post understands
that there are more PoCs from both Vietnam and China under the agency's protection
The Post tried several times without success to contact General Meach Sophana of
the Ministry of Interior's Immigration Department for the government's view.
If the three have been deported - and there is every indication that they have -
it would not be the first time the government has breached its international obligations
on asylum seekers.
The flight from Vietnam of hundreds of ethnic minority Montagnards during 2001 was
peppered with reports that Cambodia was sending back those it could find to Vietnam.
Unconfirmed reports filtering through to Phnom Penh suggest that more recent arrivals
have been forcibly repatriated since UNHCR closed its two camps in north-east Cambodia