Group of 22 faces bleak future as NGO assistance nears end
IN DATES: Khmer Krom seek ID in Cambodia
December 5, 2009
A group of 24 Khmer Krom asylum seekers are deported from Thailand as illegal immigrants. A week later, the group sends letters to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the Ministry of Interior requesting identification cards and other assistance.
December 28, 2009
The UNHCR rejects the group’s request for refugee status, citing a sub-decree handing responsibility for asylum applications over to the government. Three days later, five members of the group leave for Thailand in a second bid for asylum.
January 13, 2010
District police visit the group of Khmer Krom to gather information, raising hopes that the deportees will receive identification cards and legal recognition.
January 25, 2010
Boeung Tumpun police official Tep Bora says the information collected by district police has been sent to district authorities. He later acknowledges that the information collected in January is incomplete.
February 17, 2010
Tep Bora says that information about the Khmer Krom group has again been sent to district officials. The group’s request for identification cards is rejected the following day.
A GROUP of Khmer Krom asylum seekers who say they are fleeing persecution in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region have been formally denied identification cards by police officials, several representatives said Sunday, casting further doubt over the options that will be available to them when NGO-provided assistance runs out at the end of the month.
The Khmer Krom, many of whom were deported from Thailand in December after a failed asylum bid, were told Thursday by Meanchey district police that they lacked sufficient documentation to obtain identification cards, said group representative Thach Soong.
He said police also informed them that their request had been denied because they were not recognised as permanent residents of Boeung Tumpun commune, where they have been staying for two and a half months. Commune officials were also present at the meeting, Thach Soong said.
“They told me that we do not have a permanent place to live, so they can’t provide us with the requested ID cards and other legal documents,” he said.
The asylum seekers and those acting on their behalf have noted that identification cards are necessary if members of the group want to access hospitals, find jobs, enrol in schools and rent houses.
Meanchey district police could not be reached for comment on Sunday, and police in Boeung Tumpun commune could not confirm that the request for identification cards had been denied.
But Thach Thach, president of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation (KKF), provided a video recording of the Thursday meeting, during which at least five unidentified officials could be seen explaining the decision to a group of at least three Khmer Krom.
“According to the law of the Ministry of Interior, we cannot issue the ID cards or [family] books for you, because you do not have a specific address. If we issue the ID card for you, the owner of the house might be confused that you now own the house,” one police officer says in the video.
When one of the Khmer Krom asks again about ID cards, the officer responds: “No, we cannot issue the cards because you’ve lived in the house for two months, and you might stay at a different house another month.”
The original 24 asylum seekers were deported from Thailand on December 5. Since then, five have returned to Thailand out of frustration at the sluggish processing of their requests. Three other Khmer Krom have been deported by Thai authorities and have since joined the group in Boeung Tumpun, where they have been receiving food and shelter from the rights group Licadho.
Licadho has said that its support of the group will cease at the end of February, and Thach Soong said he fears the group will be left homeless and starving. “We will face difficulties. We live in fear, not knowing where to go,” he said. “I appeal to Licadho and the [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] to continue to help with our sheltering and food, so that we can wait for the authorities to solve the issue.”
Am Sam Ath, technical superviser for the rights group Licadho, said staff members there had not yet discussed whether they could afford to continue to provide assistance.
“Any NGOs have their limits to provide assistance,” he said. “We’ll discuss this on Monday, what we can do about their shelter and food.”
He said authorities should have provided the group with the necessary documentation to process the ID cards, rather than demand that they provide credentials they don’t have. Many of the deportees have said that they lost their documentation when they fled Vietnam.
Thach Thach of the KKF called Thursday’s decision “sad”, adding that he questioned the reasoning given by the police.
“How can you have a permanent address [in Cambodia] when you lived in Vietnam?” he said.
He said the UNHCR should reassume responsibility for processing the refugees, after a sub-decree ratified by Prime Minister Hun Sen in December declared the handling of asylum seekers solely a government responsibility.
“It is tough for Khmer Krom,” he said. “They are Vietnamese, but the Cambodian government says they are Khmer. The sub-decree is too much.”
Meanwhile, Ang Chanrith, an independent analyst who is the former executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organisation, said he was not surprised by the decision, and that he believed the police were carrying out government orders.
“I [knew] that local authorities would not provide the ID cards for them because they are listening to their bosses or superiors,” he said.
KKrom raised in Geneva
Government officials have previously said that the constitution grants all Khmer Krom the right to live in Cambodia, and that they do not face discrimination. This assertion was repeated by a five-person delegation attending a session of the UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination that took up the issue of the Khmer Krom in Geneva last week.
In written responses to questions posed by the committee, the Cambodia delegation said, “In principle, Khmer Kampuchea Krom are recognised as Cambodian citizens without any discrimination.”
The responses also noted that in order to obtain ID cards, Khmer Krom must have a permanent address in Cambodia and be able to present a birth certificate, a family book and “any verdict from the court to recognise that he/she was born by parents with Khmer nationality”.
In lieu of such a verdict, the Khmer Krom could also present a “Royal Decree on the recognition of Khmer nationality” or “any evidence which shows that he/she was born by parents having Khmer nationality”, according to the responses.
Thach Thach, who was present at the session, said he would like for all Khmer Krom to receive automatic dual citizenship, meaning they would be free to travel between Cambodia and Vietnam.