New York-based Human Rights Watch said Thursday that the death of a 31-year-old Montagnard under the protection of the UN refugee agency in Phnom Penh raises questions about the medical care being offered to the asylum seekers.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees confirmed Wednesday that a Montagnard asylum seeker died in a hospital Sept 4 from heart failure related to a serious gastrointestinal infection.
“[Rmah Plun’s] death raises questions about the quality of medical care in the refugee camps in Phnom Penh,” a Rights Watch official wrote in an e-mail.
Rmah Plun fled Vietnam for Cambodia in 2004 and was recognized by UNHCR as a refugee. Rmah Plun returned to Vietnam in 2005, reportedly because he missed his family, but fled again later that year claiming that he had suffered harsh treatment and beatings at the hands of Vietnamese authorities.
The Rights Watch official, who requested anonymity, said a refugee who lived in the Site 3 refugee facility in Phnom Penh reported that Rmah Plun became seriously sick in late August.
“On Sept 1, we understand that UNHCR staff finally took him to a hospital outside the camp, but it was too late,” the Rights Watch official said. “Plun attributed his health problems to the torture he underwent in Vietnam. We are unable to confirm whether this is true or not.”
UNHCR spokeswoman Deborah Backus said a doctor in Phnom Penh established that the asylum seeker’s death was not related to physical mistreatment.
“The medical report states the cause of death as ‘heart failure’ which was directly related to a serious gastrointestinal infection,” Backus wrote in an e-mail.
He had also been under treatment for TB, Backus said, adding that medical staff visit Montagnards in UNHCR sites twice a week and that an on-call doctor is available around the clock. “Three days prior to his death, the Montagnard voiced complaints of medical concern and he was sent to the hospital shortly thereafter,” Backus wrote.
Rmah Plun died at Phnom Penh Municipal Hospital due to excessive blood loss, hospital director Say Sengly said. Rmah Plun had also been treated for diarrhea, pneumonia and tuberculosis, he said.
After treatment, Rmah Plun had been ready to return to the refugee facility but fell ill again and then died, he said.
Pouv Borei, executive director of the little-known NGO International Friendship Development Organization, which provides services to the Montagnards on behalf of UNHCR, said he was unaware of the death.