THE prospects of 22 Khmer Krom deportees denied identity documents by Phnom Penh police last month became a little bleaker on Sunday after local rights group Licadho stopped paying for their housing and food.
“We have cut off the food and rental payments, but we will continue to support them with health services and coordinate with authorities to provide legal documents that they need to live in Cambodia,” said Am Sam Ath, a technical superviser for Licadho. “But we need them to find jobs to pay for their food and rent during this period, because we cannot support them forever.”
In January, Licadho agreed to pay for the deportees’ accommodation and food for two months while they attempted to secure identity documents, after being deported from Thailand on December 5.
Thach Soong, the group’s unofficial spokesman, said Sunday that he expected the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) to come to their aid.
“We do not know where we can live now that Licadho have cut off [payment for] food and rent for us, and the Phnom Penh authorities still haven’t made the identity cards and other legal documents,” he said.
However, Kitty McKinsey, UNHCR’s Asia spokeswoman, said that although the agency is sympathetic to the plight of the Khmer Krom, the deportees simply don’t fall under its jurisdiction.
“We don’t really have a role to play with the Khmer Krom because to a significant degree they have been recognised as Cambodian nationals, and we’re a refugee organisation,” she said. “We deal with refugees who have fled the country.”
The Cambodian government has previously said it recognises the Khmer Krom deportees as legitimate Cambodian citizens, but has also insisted it is unable to issue identity documents until they have a fixed address.
The Khmer Krom have repeatedly said over the past two months that they are too poor to rent property and are unable to secure property without identity documents.
When contacted on Sunday, Min Sothet, director of statistics and identification for the Phnom Penh Municipal Police, reaffirmed that the government could not issue identity cards without a fixed address.