The only survivor of a horrific car crash in Prey Veng province that killed five Syrian nationals, including two children, has asked Cambodian authorities not to send him back to his home country because of the ongoing war between rebels and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The group of six Syrians was traveling in a Toyota Camry being driven by a Cambodian man on Sunday evening when they ran into a flooded section of road and careered into a lake in Prey Veng province.
The bodies of the two women and two toddlers were pulled from the water on Monday, while the body of the driver and another Syrian man were recovered Tuesday, a police official said, adding that the body of a 5-year-old girl is still missing.
“All five Syrian nationals who died were brought for burial near Chhoeu Kach mountain and we brought the Syrian survivor, Rizog, to see it,” said Peou Chivy, provincial immigration police bureau chief.
Why exactly the Syrians were in Cambodia is still unclear. But on Tuesday, with the help of Peace Corps volunteer Kirk Acevedo and a Turkish speaker who lives in Cambodia, elements of the man’s story were pieced together.
The two contacts were able to understand Rizog’s Syrian dialect and then fed his words into Google Translate for the Cambodian police.
“We understand that his mother and father were killed in Syria. He left with his family…but they have no papers because they all washed away,” Mr. Acevedo said. “He does not want to go back. The first thing he said is that he is scared, ‘Please don’t send me back.’”
A Turkish speaker in Phnom Penh who was put in touch with the survivor said the man appears to be a Syrian Turkmen.
“He was in a panic,” the translator, who declined to be named, said.
Mr. Chivy said that Rizog had told him he had crossed the border from Vietnam after arriving by boat from Turkey.
It is unclear if the family was legally in Cambodia or if they had intended to make an application for refugee status in Cambodia.
Dev Sin Hong, deputy immigration police chief at the Bavet City checkpoint on the border, said his department had no record of the family crossing into Cambodia, even though the dead driver is reported to have come from Bavet City.
“If they came by the Bavet checkpoint, we would not have allowed them to enter because they did not have passports,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers)