Asylum-Seekers Wait For UNHCR Decision

Officials from the UN High Com­missioner for Refugees accompanied nearly 70 Khmer Krom asylum-seekers back to a pagoda Tues­­day, after the group spent Mon­day night sleeping on the sidewalk in front of the UNHCR’s office in Phnom Penh.

The 67 asylum-seekers from Viet­­­nam went to the UNHCR office on Monday morning, after police moved many out of the Phnom Penh pagoda where they were staying. Members of the group first began leaving Vietnam in April.

“UNHCR held several meetings with various actors involved, including national, international NGOs, and government and local authorities. This resulted in a de­cision that the group was welcome to go back to the pagoda for the time being,” the UNHCR said in a Tuesday statement.“UNHCR strong­ly encouraged the group to go back to the pagoda where their basic needs will be covered instead of having women and children sleeping on the streets of Phnom Penh.”

The UNHCR said that 59 of the group are registered asylum-seekers, but that the process of deciding whether they have refugee status is not finalized.

“This means that at present UNHCR has limited responsibility,” the UNHCR said.

Hou Dang, a Buddhist monk from southern Vietnam, said Tues­day that he recognized two Viet­namese police officers from his home province outside the UNHCR.

“They came here to monitor us. I’m really concerned with my safety,” he said, adding that he fled his home when his grandparents, father and four uncles were arrested.

The Vietnamese Embassy and the Ministry of Interior could not be reached for comment Tues­day.

Kem Sokha, Cambodian Center for Human Rights president, said the group should be granted Cam­bodian citizenship.

“According to international rights principles they have the right to live in another country if they cannot stay in their own. The Khmer Krom people are Cam­bodian and should be granted Cambodian citizenship,” he said. “The Vietnamese authorities don’t respect their culture.”

The UNHCR said spokespersons for the group asked the UN agency to help solve their problems regarding lack of religious free­dom in Vietnam.

“UNHCR clarified their role in Cam­bodia and explained that it is a nonpolitical humanitarian organization,” the statement said.

On Monday, Yoeun Sin, president for the Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights Associa­tion, said local authorities threw the group out of the Samaki Rain­sey pagoda in Meanchey district, Stung Meanchey commune, where most of them had been stay­ing.

Kuch Chamroeun, Meanchey district governor, said Tuesday that the group was not ordered out of the pagoda.

“The local authorities…only went there to do a report on the number of men, women and children staying inside,” he said, adding that the group would be welcome to return if UNHCR and the monks approve.


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