The recent arrival of murdered political analyst Kem Ley’s widow and children in Australia has buoyed the hopes of Cambodian opposition supporters in exile.
The asylum seekers, who fled Cambodia in the wake of a widespread political crackdown and the forced dissolution of their party, have been living in uncertainty, fearing extradition to the Kingdom while they seek refugee status.
They hope the arrival of Bou Rachana and her family in Australia will attract international attention to their precarious position, former Cambodia National Rescue Party member Kong Mas said.
Mao Vibol, the former head of the CNRP’s executive committee in Svay Rieng, agreed, saying he hoped he too could resettle in a safe place.
“We will not go there forever, but we will return back [to Cambodia] one day, but let the situation become safe first,” he said.
“If we are not safe, we cannot live. As you know, we live with fear and concern. First, [Thailand] is near Cambodia. Second, [with] the good relationship between the two countries . . . we are worried about the extradition agreement.”
After the sudden extradition of Sam Sokha, a UN-recognised refugee who was deported from Thailand and is now serving a two-year sentence in Cambodian jail for throwing a shoe at a ruling party billboard, Vibol and others feared they would meet the same fate.
More than 100 CNRP supporters are believed to be hiding in Thailand, with more than half of those reportedly applying for refugee status.
But observers yesterday warned that Rachana, widowed by what many in Cambodia consider to be a government hit, had an especially compelling and tragic case.
Ian Rintoul, of the Refugee Action Coalition in Australia, also noted the Australian government took her in, along with her five sons, in spite of the potential perceived “embarrassment” of accepting refugees from Cambodia, even as they send their unwanted refugees from Nauru to Cambodia under a controversial multimillion-dollar deal.
“I think it’s very unlikely that the Australian government’s generosity would extend to many others of the Cambodian opposition,” he said.
Social analyst Meas Nee, who was also a close friend of Ley’s, said Rachana’s resettlement was a departure from Australia’s hardline policy on refugees.
“This is a response from Australia to recognise that Cambodia surely has a political issue and threats to human rights,” he said.
Additional reporting by Erin Handley