Government officials yesterday said they had no knowledge of a ship bearing Sri Lankan asylum seekers that reportedly passed through Cambodian waters in May and was the subject of a request for assistance from the Canadian government.
The National Post, a Canadian newspaper, reported Friday that Canadian authorities had contacted Cambodia upon learning that the ship was passing through the country at just a few kilometers per hour on a troubled engine, but that “the Cambodian government was not interested in intercepting the vessel.”
The ship arrived on Aug 12 off Vancouver, where the Canadian Border Services Agency began screening the passengers and crew. Cambodian officials yesterday said they were unaware of the ship’s reported passage through Cambodian waters and a request from Canada for assistance. “I have not heard of this,” said Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
According to The National Post, the roughly 500 migrants first fled to Thailand following last year’s end to the Sri Lankan civil war between government forces and separatist Tamils.
Quoting Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, the newspaper said Thailand was where the migrants later boarded the ship MV Sun Sea for their ocean voyage.
Along the way, both the Australian government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees picked up traces of information on the ship’s whereabouts, and UNHCR received a fax in July purportedly from someone aboard the ship informing them of their plans to reach Canada, according to The National Post.
Canadian and UNHCR officials could not be reached yesterday. Fiona Cochaud, spokeswoman for the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh, said she could not comment.
Cambodia’s government was criticized after deporting 20 Uighur asylum seekers to China in December, even though the process of assessing their claims was incomplete. In a show of its disapproval, the US canceled a planned shipment of military trucks in April, a consignment later replaced by China. US lawmakers last month also approved draft legislation to reduce funding for military cooperation and ban support for multinational peacekeeping exercises in Cambodia until the government accounts for the whereabouts of the Uighurs.