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VN girls arrested as 'illegal immigrants'

VN girls arrested as 'illegal immigrants'

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Fourteen trafficked Vietnamese girls who were rescued by police in a raid on a

city brothel last month were arrested June 20 for illegal immigration.

The move, which came after the Phnom Penh municipal court issued the

warrant, sparked outrage from NGOs and a government minister.

Two of the 14 girls taken to Prey Sar prison June 20 are driven away by police after a court ordered them arrested for illegal immigration offenses. NGOs said the girls had been trafficked from Vietnam for prostitution, and condemned the arrests. Human Rights Watch called on donors to raise 'strong concerns'.

The girls,

who had been moved to local NGO AFESIP after the May 23 raid, were placed in a

van by police and taken to "Mor 2" at Prey Sar prison. The girls, many of whom

are only 14 and 15 years old, and others living at the refuge were in tears as

they were driven away.

Mu Sochua, the Minister for Women's and Veteran's

Affairs, said she was "extremely unhappy" at the arrests. She held an emergency

meeting with NGOs about the situation June 20.

"They were rescued from

brothels, therefore they're victims. Their welfare and their rights should be

protected," she said.

Sochua wondered what was being done by police and

the courts to pursue those who trafficked the girls. She said she would write to

Prime Minister Hun Sen recommending the girls be repatriated to Vietnam, and

ensured protection once they arrived home.

"It's not a legal issue," said

Sochua. "It's a protection issue for children."

Sao Chhoeurth, technical

manager of AFESIP, said he would "prefer to keep them in the center as prison is

not suitable for their young ages". He said he would like to negotiate with

Vietnamese authorities before sending them back to their homeland.

Human

rights NGOs said they feared for the safety of the girls and felt the court had

acted incorrectly in issuing the arrest warrants.

"We're very concerned

with the court's action on this case," said Naly Pilorge, deputy head of

Licadho. "These young girls reported a crime to the court. Instead of looking

into the crime committed, they're focusing on the victims."

Other human

rights workers were similarly outraged. Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed

"strong concern" over the arrests.

"Authorities should be protecting,

not punishing, victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation, especially if

they are minors," said Sara Colm, HRW's representative. "The real criminals who

should be put in jail are the traffickers and brothel

owners.

"Trafficking and sexual exploitation are the major crimes

allegedly committed here," she said. "That seems to be escaping the courts right

now."

The UN Human Rights spokesperson, Francesca Marotta, said "a lot

still needs to be clarified" because her organization had not yet confirmed

whether the girls were minors or trafficked. But either situation, she said,

would mean the girls were victims, and more investigation was required before

such "drastic action" was taken.

Human trafficking in Cambodia was the

subject of a June 5 report from the US State Department, which warned that

unless the country made progress combating the crime by early next year, it

would be subject to aid sanctions under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act

of 2000.

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