MUNICIPAL police officials on Tuesday called the representative of a group of 22 Khmer Krom asylum seekers to police headquarters in order to explain the rationale behind the decision to deny them identification cards, a move that has drawn the ire of civil society groups.
The representative, Thach Soong, attended the meeting along with the owner of the home where most members of the group have been staying since being deported from Thailand in December after a failed asylum bid.
On Friday, police informed the Khmer Krom that they could not receive identification cards, which are seen as essential for finding jobs, enrolling in schools, renting accommodation and accessing healthcare, among other things.
After the meeting on Tuesday, Min Sothet, director of statistics and information for the municipal police, reiterated that the Khmer Krom could not receive identification cards because they lacked a permanent address.
“First, the Khmer Krom live in a rented house; there is no permanent address,” he said. “The authorities will provide them family books should they have their own permanent place to live.”
He said he had advised the Khmer Krom to seek assistance from NGOs to purchase a plot of land for themselves.
“As long as the group owns the property, we’ll be able to process the family books for them, and following that they can obtain ID cards,” he said.
He added: “It’s not that we don’t want to provide them with legal documents such as family books and the ID cards. We’re more sympathetic to them ... than native Cambodians.”
Licadho, the rights group that has been assisting the Khmer Krom, has said it cannot continue paying for rent and food beyond the end of the month. Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor for the group, said Min Sothet’s suggestion that the Khmer Krom buy land was disingenuous.
“How can they [buy land] without having any legal documents that identify themselves as Cambodian citizens?” he said. “The Khmer Krom are poor. They have no money to buy property.”
Meanwhile, Maggie Murphy, programme director at the Unrepresented Nations and People’s Organisation, which is based in The Hague, said the decision to deny identification cards was part of a broader pattern of discrimination against the Khmer Krom.
“Khmer Krom from Vietnam should not have to fulfil impossible conditions such as proving they were born in Cambodia, nor being expected to have a permanent address,” she said.
“Cambodia needs to resolve this issue once and for all to guarantee a fair and transparent process administered by the central government to ensure consistency and equality in the treatment of Khmer Krom. Khmer Krom arriving in Cambodia from Vietnam live in legal limbo for significant stretches of time, as they are neither treated as citizens nor as refugees.”