Khmer Krom Seeking Refuge Remain in a State of Limbo

Khmer Krom people fleeing persecution in Vietnam and denied refuge in Thailand are being sent to Cambodia, where the government does not ensure that their rights are protected, the Minority Rights Organization (MIRO) has said in a new report.

The report—“Abandoned People Khmer Krom Seeking Refuge and Asylum in Thailand”—is based on interviews that were carried out with Khmer Krom asylum seekers, refugees and activists in November. 

“Reaching out for legal recognition in Thailand by applying for asylum with the U.N. [High Commissioner for Refugees], most Khmer Krom are rejected on the grounds that they could safely live in Cambodia,” the report says. However, it adds, there are in fact “numerous instances where the [government] has not afforded such protections to Khmer Krom people.”

“The UNHCR in Bangkok has to acknowledge that the [government] does not provide full protection for activists from Kampuchea Krom,” MIRO director Ang Chanrith said.

The UNHCR in Bangkok did not return a request for comment.

Sister Denise Coghlan, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, said there are many Khmer Krom who have been living in Cambodia for many years who have no problems at all.

“But now the problem seems to be that there are other people who are claiming that they need protection from Vietnam,” she said.

“Some have gone to Thailand…. But if the UNHCR is denying people the right to claim refugee status in Thailand because they are Cambodian, it seems quite unjustifiable,” Sister Coghlan added.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the right to seek refuge should be respected.

“If they seek refuge from Vietnam—to go to a place where you feel comfortable as a human right, to make a living,” he said, “and a strong body like the U.N. should protect them.

“In the case of Cambodia, according to our Constitution, we are prevented from interfering in political influence to another state, so if they come here in Cambodia asking for status to live in Cambodia and they like it here and want to settle, the government will always welcome that one.

“But we don’t want everyone to use Cambodia as a springboard to topple or fight against neighboring countries—whoever is living in Vietnam has to respect the local law,” Mr. Siphan said.

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