THE NGO that has been covering rent and food expenses for the group of 22 Khmer Krom seeking asylum in Phnom Penh informed them on Monday that it could not afford to offer support past the end of February, giving them just five days to come up with new living arrangements.
The news comes three days after district police and local officials informed the Khmer Krom, many of whom have been staying in Meanchey district since being deported in December from Thailand after a failed asylum bid, that their request for identification cards had been formally denied.
Am Sam Ath, a technical superviser for the rights group Licadho, which has been aiding the Khmer Krom, said Sunday that staff members there would meet Monday to discuss whether they could extend their support in light of the decision on the identification cards. On Monday, however, he confirmed that Licadho would stick to its original timetable, under which it is set to suspend its support at the end of the month.
“We confirm that we can no longer provide assistance,” Am Sam Ath said. “However, we will continue to monitor their safety.”
He said budget issues were preventing Licadho from providing more help than it already had, and he suggested in a meeting with the group on Monday that they keep requesting help from other organisations until their situation is resolved.
“We suggested they seek help from other NGOs and the [UN High Commissioner for Refugees],” he said.
Thach Soong, a representative of the deportees, said many are concerned they will have no options if they cannot find another organisation to assist them.
Identification cards are seen as essential in finding jobs, enrolling in schools, renting accommodation and accessing health care, among other things.
“I appeal to local and international NGOs to continue to provide assistance so we can wait for the government to solve this problem,” he said in an interview at the Boeung Tumpun commune home where the group has been staying.
“I don’t know what to do. Being here without any legal documents [means] I have no way to find a job or live legally here,” he said.
“If I return to Thailand [to seek asylum] I don’t know what will happen to me.”
Ever since the group arrived in Cambodia on December 5, government officials have stressed that all Khmer Krom are granted the right to live in Cambodia under the constitution, and that they do not face discrimination here.
However, observers have argued that the government does not always live up to this claim, most recently during a session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination held in Geneva last week.
Citing other recent cases of Khmer Krom asylum seekers in Cambodia, Thach Soong said he feared ultimately being sent back to Vietnam, where members of the group have been persecuted. “Tim Sakhorn and other Khmer Krom monks were sent back,” he said, referring to a monk who was sent back to Vietnam in June 2007 but has since been given asylum in Sweden.
Thach Soong’s wife, Kim Soun, also expressed concern about what would happen to them after March 1. “After this [rent] runs out, I don’t know where I will be going,” she said. “I haven’t thought of any way to move on.”
Meanchey district officials could not be reached for comment on Monday.
No jurisdiction: UNHCR
Kitty McKinsey, spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Bangkok, noted on Monday that the UNHCR does not have jurisdiction to process the Khmer Krom because they are considered Cambodian citizens.
“This has nothing to do with the sub-decree,” she said. “Our understanding is that the Khmer Krom are recognised as Cambodian citizens.”