Fleeing Activist Finds UNHCR’s Thai Office Closed

A Khmer Krom activist fleeing charges of disinformation in Takeo province has fallen on hard times after finding that the Bangkok office of the UN High Commis­sioner for Refugees could not ac­cept asylum seekers, the director of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organization claimed Monday.

The UNHCR does not comment on individual asylum cases, but Giuseppe de Vincentis, the UNHCR’s deputy regional representative, said the agency’s offices can register and protect asylum seekers as of Monday, though Thai authorities have yet to permit the office to begin refugee status interviews again. Asylum seekers who may have previously been turned away should return to the office, he said.

San Savang, executive director of the Takeo-based Friends of Khmer Kampuchea Krom Association, fled to Thailand in April after being charged with disinformation, said Ang Chanrith, leader of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organization.

Authorities said in March that San Savang was suspected of forging documents to portray 50 Khmer Krom migrant workers from Vietnam as political refugees.

Having been turned away by the UNHCR, San Savang is now down on his luck in Bangkok, Ang Chanrith claimed. “San Savang told me over the telephone that he faced financial problems,” Ang Chanrith said. “He dares not return because he is afraid of arrest.”

The UNHCR said on May 16 that the Thai government had requested earlier in the month that it refrain from processing new cases because the policy for the agency’s Thai operations is being rewritten.

However, the UNHCR decided Monday that its Thai office could register asylum seekers, offer documents that allow them to remain in Thailand and provide protection in some cases. “Those with valid claims, they can come to the office,” de Vincentis said by telephone from Bangkok. “They will find our doors open.”

Songchai Chaipatiyut, first secretary at the Thai Embassy in Ph­nom Penh, did not immediately respond to e-mailed requests for comment.

Tith Sothy, an investigating judge at Takeo Provincial Court, said San Savang should not fear persecution. “I won’t detain him if he has enough evidence to prove that he is innocent,” he said. “The court is not bad. He is so afraid.”

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