Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 23 Khmer Krom sent from Thailand claim food, help is lacking

23 Khmer Krom sent from Thailand claim food, help is lacking

23 Khmer Krom sent from Thailand claim food, help is lacking

Asylum seekers deported to Poipet say they have struggled to survive since their arrival, with no family or other support in Cambodia.

A GROUP of 23 Khmer Krom asylum seekers hiding out in Banteay Meanchey province after being deported by Thai immigration authorities earlier this month say they continue to grapple with a lack of food and medical care.

Since their July 3 deportation, 33 members of the group of 56 have left the Poipet border town to move in with friends and relatives scattered across the country.

But the remaining 23 deportees, who claim they were born in southern Vietnam and have no family in the country, are now stranded at a small property about 15 kilometres from Poipet, where they face food shortages and increasing bouts of illness.

"We do not have enough food to survive," said one deportee, who declined to be named.

"We are coughing, and we are afraid that we will contract swine flu, but we do not have the money for treatment."

The deportee said the Phnom Penh office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had made no attempt to contact them since the deportation, leaving them in a state of increasing uncertainty.

"We cannot live here much longer," he said. "We do not know what will happen to us in the future."

Chao Veasna, a Khmer Krom living in Poipet who has provided some support to the recent arrivals, said they had received a bag of rice from a Christian charity and that they were going into the fields to seek additional food.

"They do not have any support right now, and I do not know who can help them," he said, adding that their food supplies would only last through today.

Forgotten people
The situation for the deportees seems set to worsen, with local and international organisations saying they are unable to aid the Khmer Krom refugees.

We cannot live here much longer. We do not know what will happen to us...

Toshi Kawauchi, head of the UNHCR office in Phnom Penh, said his mandate did not extend to the deportees because all ethnic Khmers technically have the automatic right to Cambodian citizenship.
"We are not able to process their cases as long as they are in Cambodia," he said.

"I am still in discussions with our regional office in Bangkok to see what actions we might be able to take."

Ang Chanrith, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organisation, also said his office did not have any means to support the people and could only provide legal support.

"We do not know how to help them," he said. "They are Khmer, but they did not have any documents to prove it, so we will wait and see."

A Human Rights Watch report released in January cited the "severe and often shrouded methods" used by the Vietnamese government to stifle dissent among the country's large Khmer minority.

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