THE 24 Khmer Krom refugees deported from Thailand last month were visited Tuesday by district police in Phnom Penh, who gathered information that the group believes may be used to produce identification cards.
The deportees – who have been staying at an unspecified location – had originally planned to visit the chief of Boeung Tumpun commune in a bid to confirm that they were eligible to stay there, but the police officers visited them instead. They have been without identification since being deported from Thailand on December 5 after fleeing Vietnam to escape what they described as persecution and religious repression.
Khmer Krom spokesman Thach Song, 49, said the police requested information including names, birthplaces and ages, as well as details on where the deportees were living and where they came from.
“I think the police came to gather information for identification cards,” he said. “I asked whether the district police will issue the documents, and the police said it was up to the district chief.”
The deputy Boeung Tumpun commune chief confirmed that the police had visited the group in person. “This is a preliminary step,” he said of the visit, during which each member of the group thumbprinted the documents recording the information.
Naly Pilorge, president of the rights group Licadho, said it was somewhat curious that police would be used to collect information for identification cards.
“It’s unusual, and to me the alarm bell rings,” she said. “The normal way does not involve police.”
The deportees – exhausted and poor – have been awaiting official identification of their citizenship since arriving in Cambodia. Without it, they cannot rent a house, go to hospitals or enroll in schools. Five of them have fallen ill, and all are reportedly low on food. On Tuesday they sent a letter to the Red Cross requesting both food and medicine.