KHMER Krom asylum seekers who were deported by Thai authorities earlier this month say they will face arrest and likely reprisal if they are forcibly returned to Vietnam.
The 24 Khmer Krom, as members of Vietnam’s Khmer minority are known, were deported to Cambodia on December 5 and are being sheltered by NGOs in Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet town.
“I have submitted an application for residency, but there is still no answer from the local authorities,” said 49-year-old asylum seeker Thach Soong.
Originally from Vietnam’s Soc Trang province, Thach Soong said Vietnamese authorities first suspected him after he took part in protests for freedom of religion and land rights during the 1980s. He fled Vietnam in 2003 following threats of arrest, but said he faced a hostile reception from Cambodian authorities, who detained him for 64 days.
After his asylum application was rejected by UNHCR in Bangkok in 2006, Thach Soong said he lived in Thailand illegally before his arrest and deportation this month. “I am afraid now that I will end up in jail if the authorities deport me back to Vietnam,” he said.
Choa Sokha, 34, said he fled from Vietnam’s An Giang province to Cambodia in 2007 after he was arrested and tortured by police for leading protests for freedom of religion and expression.
“I was guilty in Vietnam, and I am afraid of deportation to Vietnam,” he added.
The recent Khmer Krom arrivals follow the similar deportation of 54 Khmer Krom by Thai police in June.
Ang Chanrith, executive director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organisation, said the 54 were subsequently smuggled back into Thailand to make another bid for asylum. He said “more than 10” of the current deportees were also deported in June.
Kitty McKinsey, UNHCR spokeswoman in Bangkok, said the deportees were all at various stages of their asylum applications at the time of their deportation. She said the UNHCR regarded their deportation as a “serious matter” and had taken up the issue with the government in Bangkok.
“Our position is that no asylum seekers should be deported from Thailand unless their appeals have been processed and it has been properly established that they do not require international protection,” she said, adding that there are “orderly procedures” for returning unsuccessful applicants to their countries of origin.
Try Narin, the governor of Poipet town, said he had not received any information about the Khmer Krom group. “We have nowhere to resettle them, and they will return to where they came from,” he said.