NINETEEN Khmer Krom refugees were released from detention in Bangkok Monday following an intervention from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Ang Chanrith, head of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organization, said the asylum seekers, who held refugee documents from the UNHCR, were released after the UN office petitioned Thai officials to recognise their status as legitimate asylum seekers.The group leaves behind in detention seven Khmer Krom who were recent arrivals to Bangkok and had not yet been registered with the UNHCR, he said.
Ang Chanrith, who has been working on the case with UN officials in Phnom Penh and Bangkok, said Khmer Krom asylum seekers in Thailand have been experiencing delays in being recognized by the UNHCR, putting them at risk of being rounded up by police.
He said all 26 of those detained had fled Vietnam after they feared imprisonment at the hands of authorities there following public demonstrations against limits on their freedom of culture, religion and speech.
Contacted by phone, the UNHCR office in Bangkok said it had a policy of not discussing individual cases. The UNHCR office in Phnom Penh could not be reached for comment.
Rights groups and Khmer Krom activists have accused the Vietnamese and Cambodian governments of engaging in a persistent and often violent campaign to stifle the rights and distinct identity of the Khmer ethnic group originating from what is now Vietnam's southern Delta.