Nine sex workers scheduled to be deported to Vietnam have disappeared from the Pochentong detention center where they were waiting to be sent back home, NGO officials claim, adding that there is no evidence the deportations were carried out and the girls instead paid their way out of custody.
The nine girls, the youngest of whom said she was 13, were rescued by police in a series of raids in the Svay Pak brothel district of Phnom Penh in May.
After their rescue, the girls were handed over to the NGO Afesip, only to be arrested shortly after on immigration charges.
In August, the nine were sentenced to short jail terms after being convicted of immigration violations and were told they would be deported after serving their time. When they were released from prison, the nine were sent to the Pochentong detention center to await deportation.
Afesip had been feeding the girls three times a day at the immigration facility, but “the girls have disappeared,” said Afesip adviser Pierre Legros.
“One of the girls who was released from immigration came back to Afesip to get her belongings after she was released,” Legros said.
Legros said an Afesip investigation revealed that the girls’ families paid for their release and they have disappeared within Cambodia—most likely back into the sex trade.
In August the girls’ case was a major focus of outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson during her visit to Cambodia. Robinson said that “those who have the misfortune to be trafficked are not criminals.”
UN human rights envoy Peter Leuprecht is scheduled to arrive in Cambodia today for a six-day visit. Henrik Alfram, spokesman for the UN’s human rights office here, said Leuprecht will pay special attention to “the issue of treatment of victims of cross-border trafficking and [victims] being sentenced for illegal immigration.”
Municipal Court Judge Nop Sophon, who sentenced the girls, agreed that dealing with this case was difficult. “I faced a lot of problems and criticism [from people] claiming the girls were victims of sex trafficking.”
He said he did not know what happened to the girls.
“I just issued the verdicts ordering to expel those girls—how the verdict is implemented is up to the Ministry of Interior,” he said.
“I do not know who I could complain to about [their disappearance] or who could intervene…but I would not be safe if I tried to intervene about this,” Nop Sophon added.
Ministry of Interior immigration chief General Meach Sophana said Monday he was unaware of the specific case.
A Vietnamese consular official who asked not to be named said he had no knowledge of the deportations.