A group of 27 ethnic Khmers recently deported from Thailand are facing food shortage and homelessness as time runs out on their NGO-supported lodging in Phnom Penh and the government has yet to provide them with Cambodian national identification cards, Khmer Krom and rights groups said yesterday.
While the bulk of the group arrived in December, three were deported from Thailand on Feb 6. All have been living in a house in Meanchey district funded by local rights group Licadho, but funds for that run out in March.
“We gave them a humanitarian fund for a short time with food and we paid for their accommodation,” said chief investigator for Licadho, Am Sam Ath, adding that the group can only fund them until March.
Mr Sam Ath noted that he had been working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to pressure the government to issue to ID cards.
Toshi Kawauchi, head of the Cambodian office of UNHCR, said yesterday that the agency had been advising the group but didn’t have the authority to provide more comprehensive assistance.
“We are a refugee agency, by definition we are working with those outside the country of nationality. We have been assured by the government that they are considered Cambodian nationals,” said Mr Kawauchi.
“We are aware of some difficulties, but state authorities are the only ones who can handle that,” he added.
Government officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Thach Soong, 41, one of the deported Khmer Kroms, said he was concerned about what will happen when the aid agency funding runs out.
“We want the government to help us as we wrote to them demanding our Cambodian citizen ID card and the authority did not give it to us yet. It is difficult to look for a job without an ID card,” he said.
“We have the humanitarian fund only for three months,” he added. “During this time we still wait from the government to distribute the ID card or farm land or accommodation.”
(Additional reporting by Abby Seiff)