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.