A Cambodian government source involved in human trafficking issues has said the government
has been carefully scrutinizing Afghan arrivals in the aftermath of the attacks on
the United States.
"It's hard to say if more asylum seekers will transit through Cambodia because
of what's happening in Central Asia. We had been thinking that the number of Afghans
coming here would increase, but right now there's not a really significant change
in arrivals," he said.
Even before the current conflict Afghanistan was one of the world's major sources
of refugees. In July this year 241 asylum seekers from Pakistan and Afghanistan were
set to board an Indonesian owned logging vessel in Sihanoukville for the 11 day journey
to Australia when police swooped.
The asylum seekers had been flown by a human smuggling ring to Phnom Penh from Bangkok,
Singapore and Hong Kong under legal visas. After their capture most of the group
opted to return to Pakistan where a number indicated that they would try illegal
immigration again, said Nenette Motus of the International Organization for Migration
Graham Shaw of UN crime control agency UNODCCP, said Sihanoukville was only one option
for the smugglers. "There are plenty of places where you can get people out
of this country and there would be dozens of routes that go through Cambodia,"
"It's not the geographical distance that makes a particular route attractive,
it's the ease with which you can move people. It's clear that Cambodia is still a
weak link and is one of a group of countries attractive to traffickers," he
A lack of appropriate legislation means the seven gang members responsible for the
Sihanoukville group can only be charged with minor visa related offenses.
"The same gangs that are involved in the movement of drugs are usually involved
in people smuggling and we know that Cambodia has a major problem with drug trafficking
and therefore with human trafficking also," Shaw said.
Twelve of the group applied for asylum in Cambodia with a decision expected before
October 19. Motus said that another 25 are still "in limbo" without valid
visas for either Cambodia or Pakistan.
Referring to the seizure, Shaw said "our educated guess is that about the same
number of people transit through Cambodia each month [but] you're never going to
get any hard and fast figures with criminal activity".
Among those transiting through Cambodia are some people from Afghanistan, said Shaw,
adding it was likely the conflict would lead to a short term increase.
"There are definitely people in those camps [in Pakistan] now drumming up business,"
he said, adding that they typically offered Australia as a destination in exchange
An Australian embassy official said that the seizure had already had an effect on
the number of arrivals from Afghanistan.
"There had been a surge [in airport arrivals by Afghan nationals] in the three
months prior to that incident," the official said.
Shaw agreed but said there was still a long way to go.
"This recent seizure will make them look at the Cambodian option again. Maybe
in twenty years we'll turn around and say that was the point when it started to change,"
David Welin of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that
Cambodia had received a small number of asylum applications from Afghanis over the
past few years.
"The cases we've seen are primarily families, individuals or very small groups,"
he said, adding that UNHCR was "following the movement of people out of Afghanistan
very closely, so contingency plans are being drawn up should we see a mass exodus.
In Cambodia we have the capacity to deal with a slight increase but it's way too
early to expect a dramatic increase," said Welin.