Uncertainty still surrounds the fate of 21 Vietnamese women held for almost one month in police detention in Phnom Penh awaiting deportation to Vietnam, municipal officials said Tuesday.
Sok Leakhena, deputy chief of the municipal cabinet, said Tuesday an agreement has been reached with the Vietnamese Embassy to deport the women, who were working in the country as prostitutes and hairdressers.
However, no date has been set for their return to Vietnam, Sok Leakhena said. Cambodian authorities are waiting on the Vietnamese to agree to accept them back, he said.
“We want to send them back very soon. Two of them are sick and there are problems with the [detention] conditions, and we must send them food every day,” Sok Leakhena said.
The women, arrested July 26 after a raid on a house in the Prampi Makara district of Phnom Penh, are being detained for entering Cambodia without proper immigration papers, Sok Leakhena said.
Human rights workers have expressed concern over the conditions in which the group is being held at the district police headquarters.
A human rights worker said Tuesday the group is been held without charge and that some of them are less than 18 years old.
Noting some of the women were probably tricked and trafficked to Cambodia, the rights worker said they should be treated as victims and not culprits.
Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara said Tuesday that he will allow the group into the custody of an NGO if the organization could ensure the women’s security.
“If an NGO can take care of them properly, I agree,” Chea Sophara said.
Yim Symany, Prampi Makara district police chief, said Tuesday the 21 women aged 18 to 25 entered Cambodia without proper documentation and were working illegally in the capital.
The detention room at district police headquarters is small, Yim Symany admitted, but noted food is being provided by the municipality.
The women are allowed visitors three times per day.
Vietnamese Ambassador Nguyen Duy Hung said Tuesday no date has been set for the deportation.
The embassy must first determine exactly where in Vietnam each of the women is from.
The embassy has requested that Cambodian authorities treat the women fairly, as they were likely brought to Cambodia by human traffickers, Nguyen Duy Hung said.
“They are victims also,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Ana Nov)