Khmer Krom activist says he will seek refugee status following his flight to Thailand
In a 2009 report, Human Rights Watch documented Vietnam’s “ongoing violations” of the rights of the country’s Khmer minority – commonly known as Khmer Krom – citing ethnic-based grievances and demands for religious freedom as particular concerns.
KHMER Krom activist Tim Sakhorn, who has fled Cambodia claiming he was forced to live in a stateless limbo without identity documents, is to seek refugee status in the United States, he told the Post Sunday.
"I will go to meet the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok [Monday] to have them help me seek refugee status," he said. "I escaped from a lot of fear when I arrived in Thailand."
Before he fled to Thailand last week, local authorities were keeping a close watch over his house - an activity he saw as a threat to his family, he said.
"I miss my homeland. I wanted to be a monk in our homeland, but Cambodia did not issue an identity card to acknowledge me," he said, referring to what he called bureaucratic discrimination against Khmer Krom citizens of Cambodia.
Without an identity card, it is more difficult to prove Cambodian citizenship and obtain access to services - or safety from arbitrary deportation, he said.
"The [Cambodian government] pushed me to Vietnam and Vietnam pushed me back," he said, adding he was fearful of this happening again unless he was given documents and legal status as a Cambodian citizen.
The former monk, who was arrested and defrocked in Cambodia in June 2007 before being deported and jailed for a year in Vietnam on charges of undermining its national unity, returned to his native Takeo province to visit family on April 4. He then fled to Thailand after being reordained.
The 41-year-old told the Post that his stay in Thailand was only temporary and that he was planning to seek permanent refugee status in America.
Ang Chanrith, executive director of the Khmer Krom Human Rights Organisation, said Sunday that local human rights groups were encouraging UNHCR's Bangkok office to help him secure refugee status.
"I am optimistic that Tim Sakhorn will receive refugee status because the world is watching," he said, adding that the monk had been defrocked illegally.
A UNHCR official based in Phnom Penh, who declined to be named, said he did not know of the Bangkok office's intentions, but confirmed that local rights groups were advocating on behalf of Tim Sakhorn.
The official added that before Khmer New Year the UN had gone to Takeo province to encourage authorities to issue Tim Sakhorn an identity card, but that they said the request would be granted only after the holiday period.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that there was no threat to Tim Sakhorn in Cambodia.
"His comments were made just in order to leave for a third country. No one is bothering him," he said. "More than 13 million people can live in Cambodia, so why can't he live here?" Vietnamese embassy officials could not be reached for comment Sunday.