Khmer Krom Monks, Civilians Request Asylum

Twenty-one Khmer Krom monks and about 50 Khmer Krom ci­vilians gathered Monday morning in front of the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees’ headquarters in Phnom Penh seeking asylum.

At 6 pm, the group was still wait­ing outside, after the UNHCR had said earlier in the day that it need­ed confirmation from the Cam­bodian Ministry of Foreign Af­fairs that they were genuine as­ylum-seekers.

Members of the group have been arriving in Cambodia since April, and most have found ac­commodation at Wat Samaki Rain­sey in Stung Meanchey commune, according to one asylum-seek­er and Yoeun Sin, president of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights Association.

But the pagoda has since been closed to asylum-seekers by local pol­ice, leaving most of the Khmer Krom monks and civilians with nowhere to go.

“We are here until the UNHCR comes up with a solution,” said Thach Len, 42, a Buddhist monk.

Inge Sturkenboom, associate protection officer with UNHCR, said it was expected that the For­eign Ministry would grant Cam­bodian citizenship to the group.

Several of the people standing in front of the UN building said they hoped the UNHCR would solve their problems and guarantee their safety if they returned to Viet­nam. Inge Sturkenboom rej­ected that option.

“If they apply for refugee status we can give them international pro­tection but we do not have the man­date to guarantee their safety if they go back,” she said.

According to one of the Bud­dhist monks, they left their homes in southern Vietnam be­cause if they had stayed authorities would have them arrested for interfering with local politics.

“We have tried to practice our Khmer Krom culture, Buddhist rel­igion and human rights but the Vietnamese government has taken those rights away from us,” he said.

A Vietnamese Embassy official put down the phone when asked about the group.


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