A GROUP of 22 Khmer Krom deportees protested in front of the Phnom Penh office of the UN refugee agency Wednesday, bringing their pleas to an organisation that maintains it is powerless to help them.
Thach Soong, who is representing the deportees, said they are asking the UNHCR to help solve a conundrum that has left the group’s legal status in limbo since the ethnic Khmer fled Vietnam only to be deported from Thailand last year.
The government has refused to issue identity documents as long as the group has no fixed address. The deportees, in turn, say they can’t find jobs and rent homes without IDs.
“We are asking the UNHCR in Phnom Penh to respond and help us find homes,” he said. “If not, we will certainly live with fear in Cambodia forever.”
However, because the government has already recognised the ethnic Khmer as Cambodian nationals, they do not fall under the UNHCR’s protection, a spokeswoman said.
“To a significant degree, they have been recognised as Cambodian nationals, and we’re a refugee organisation,” Kitty McKinsey, UNHCR’s Asia spokeswoman, told the Post this week.
In the meantime, another UN agency, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has pledged to step in with financial support after funding for rent and food from a local NGO ran out this week. But that agency has not specified how long that support will last.
In the meantime, the group’s current landlord said he will not rent his property to the deportees if they do not have identification documents.
“They have lived in my rented house for two months because [local rights group] Licadho rented it from me,” said Chan Samon. “But if they tried to rent it directly without any legal identification documents, I will not rent it to them.”