Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Govt to decide refugee cases

Govt to decide refugee cases

Govt to decide refugee cases


Refugees and asylum-seekers will now have their cases reviewed by the Department of Immigration, but the UN is not completely out of the loop

Photo by: Heng Chivoan

Montagnards protest the deportation of 28 ethnic minority asylum-seekers outside the Phnom Penh UNHCR office in July.

FOREIGN asylum-seekers in Cambodia will now have their cases heard at the Department of Immigration rather than the UN High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) office, according to a press release Monday.

The UNHCR office has been the port of call for refugees in Cambodia for the last 14 years, serving the needs of a small  number of people, mainly persecuted Montagnards from Vietnam's Central Highlands who have been forced to flee their homelands.

According to the press release, the decision on whether to grant refugee status to individuals still rests with UNHCR officers, but will be done in stricter consultation with Cambodian officials, with the goal of eventually handing over authority entirely.

Toshi Kawauchi, protection officer at the UNHCR office in Phnom Penh, told the Post Tuesday that he saw the move as a positive step, symbolising Cambodia's growing responsibility in the area of refugee rights.

"It is a positive sign that the government is committing itself and taking responsibility [for refugee law]," he said.

He added that although the office has already moved, the government and the UN were still in the process of drafting domestic laws that would formalise the new procedures.

"It is an ongoing process," he said.

"Right now we are preparing the legal framework that will be needed to formulate proceedings."

Sok Phal, deputy director of immigration police, said that the move represents Cambodia's commitment to upholding international standards of law without the help of the UN.

"We have always worked in cooperation with UNHCR, and now we will continue to cooperate with UNHCR, but we will be the authority."

Government policies, in which the UNHCR were complicit, came under fire earlier this year when scores of Montagnards protested the deportation of 28 of their fellow asylum-seekers outside the UNHCR office.

According to the UNHCR, only around 300 Montagnards have been granted refugee or asylum-seeker status and remain in Cambodia.

Kawauchi said the UNHCR was confident the Cambodian government would incorporate international standards when rewriting their domestic laws.  


  • New US bill ‘is a violation of Cambodian independence’

    After a US congressmen introduced bipartisan legislation that will enact sanctions on Cambodian officials responsible for “undermining democracy” in the Kingdom, government officials and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on Sunday said they regarded the potential action as the “violation of independence and sovereignty

  • Long way to go before Cambodia gets a ‘smart city’

    Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang will struggle to attain smart city status without adopting far reaching master plans, according to officials tasked with implementing the program. The brainchild of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the smart city program seeks to link up

  • Ministry’s plan for net sparks fears

    The government has ordered all domestic and international internet traffic in the Kingdom to pass through a Data Management Centre (DMC) that has been newly created by the state-owned Telecom Cambodia, in a move some have claimed is an attempt to censor government critics. Spokesman

  • China-Cambodia tourism forum held

    The Cambodian tourism sector must be prepared to welcome a growing number of Chinese tourists, as they lead the globe in the number of outbound travellers and were responsible for the most visitors to the Kingdom last year, the country’s tourism minister said on