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Group condemns treatment of Khmer Krom

A STATEMENT issued Monday by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) condemned the treatment of Khmer Krom, Uighur and Hmong refugees by several nations, including Cambodia, after a conference on refugees in Rome last week.

The statement expressed “deep concern at the total disregard” for the principle of non-refoulement – which protects refugees seeking asylum from being returned to their home countries – by the governments of Cambodia, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Myanmar and Nepal.

Maggie Murphy, programme coordinator for the UNPO Secretariat, expressed specific concerns on Monday about the conduct of Cambodian authorities in dealing with Khmer Krom refugees who have been unable to secure identity documents since arriving in Cambodia on December 5.

“The Khmer Krom case is extremely complex due to Cambodia’s gesture of granting asylum seekers citizenship without granting full citizen rights. Indeed, names must be changed or adapted, and places of birth modified,” she said.

“The granting of an identity document often only occurs once a bribe has been secured from the asylum seeker,” she said, adding that the Khmer Krom Federation, which attended the Rome conference, had received numerous complaints that authorities had requested prohibitively large sums of money for identity documents.

Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said Tuesday that it was standard practice to require a small fee for legal documents.

“It’s normal that the authorities might ask for a little fee to buy cigarettes or for breakfast. In Western countries or the United States, if you want to see a doctor, you need to pay a lot of money,” he said.

Thach Soong, a Khmer Krom representative who has previously argued that the refugees need legal documents to secure housing and employment, said they could not afford to pay any sum.

“I’m sure they will not provide us any legal documents because we don’t have any money,” he said.

The UNPO statement also criticised what it described as the “weak response” of the broader international community and called on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to reverse its decision to hand over responsibility for refugees to state authorities.

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